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Workplace Bullying – What do Employees & Employers need to know?

Workplace Bullying – What do Employees & Employers need to know?

Published on September 21, 2021 by Thomas Felizzi and Darcy Pearsall

It is a feeling familiar to many employees; anxiety, loss of confidence, persistent stress. Perhaps there are concerns about your work performance.  Maybe comments or actions from colleagues have started to affect your life outside of the workplace, you are not as happy as you would like to be and this has led to a decrease in your productivity. These feelings may even manifest themselves in physical signs of stress such as headaches or poor sleep.

For those being subjected to bullying or harassment in the workplace, these symptoms may be easily recognisable. If they are – you are not alone. Indeed, researchers at the University of South Australia have recently revealed that up to two-thirds of Australians have experienced these symptoms as a result of workplace bullying, but those people have either failed to report it or did not recognise it to be bullying.

So, what is workplace bullying and what rights do employees have?

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying occurs when a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards an employee or employees in the workplace. Such behaviour can include aggression, intimidation, and humiliation, spreading of malicious rumours or exclusion from work-related events. It may even include seemingly innocuous behaviours like teasing, practical jokes or unreasonable work expectations.

If any of the above behaviours are familiar to you and they are affecting your health and safety, it is important that you speak out and feel supported to do so. It is true that we have ushered in a new social climate; characterised by the #metoo movement, a greater understanding of mental health issues and a recognition that systemic bullying and harassment exists. However, expressing how you might be suffering in the workplace remains a difficult topic for both an employee and employer to address.  This means it is important for both to understand how bullying behaviours affect the way we work and the success of an organisation and its employees.

There has never been a more pressing time to address workplace bullying. COVID-19 has radically changed the way we work and continues to impact workloads, role expectations, all in a context of increased isolation particularly for those who work from home.  Inappropriate workplace behaviours in these circumstances can have serious consequences to an employees health.

 Things for employees to know

 If you have experienced bullying in the workplace, you have a range of options available to you.

 As an employee, you may be protected by several pieces of legislation, including the following:

  • Public Service Act 1999
  • Workplace Relations Act 1996
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Privacy Act of 1988
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986
  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991
  • Workers Compensation Act 1987

It is important to report bullying, intimidating or other unacceptable workplace behaviour to your employer.

Things for employers to know

A review conducted by iCare found that the mental health impacts from public health events like pandemics can continue to be seen in the years following an episode. Therefore, it is important for employers to consider how they can continue to offer support for their staff in the long-term, even if the immediate physical threat reduces over time. Some tips include:

  • Employers should regularly check in with their employees, and ensure that employees are well equipped to work from home both mentally and physically;
  • Advocate for a healthy work-life balance so that employees feel comfortable ‘logging off’ when working from home;
  • Continue to monitor for signs of employee stress, particularly as workplace harassment or exclusion becomes digital.

What are the impacts of workplace bullying?

Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers has supported victims of workplace bullying who have gone on to develop significant personal injury as a result of the conduct that they have had to endure. Bullying and intimidation can result in serious psychological injury which can be compensated for as a workplace injury. It is important to consult a lawyer if workplace bullying has resulted in you or someone you know having to take time off from work or even being unable to return to work.

Don’t forget to look after yourself and your colleagues! 

Most importantly, everyone needs to look after their mental health. If you think you or a colleague need some advice – even just to talk about things – the following resources are a great place to start:

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