Studies showing around 1 in 3 people have been bullied or witnessed it in the workplace, Finlaysons’ (Workplace) partner Guy Biddle says it’s time South Australian businesses took the issue seriously in order to prevent costly legal action down the track.
With *studies showing around 1 in 3 people have been bullied or witnessed it in the workplace, Finlaysons’ (Workplace) partner Guy Biddle says it’s time South Australian businesses took the issue seriously in order to prevent costly legal action down the track.
The Australian Productivity Commission recently estimated the cost of bullying in the Australian workplace to be between $6 billion and $36 billion annually.
The South Australian Parliament is currently debating new Model Work Health and Safety laws that will provide the platform for businesses to be prosecuted if they fail to deal adequately with bullying in the workplace. These laws have already been adopted by most other States around the country.
Mr Biddle said bullying was an issue across all workplaces at all levels and managers needed to be better educated as to the need to take action.
“The bottom line is employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment for their staff. While there will always be woolly areas around what constitutes a bullying act, it would be better for bosses to enforce more professional standards in the office first than to risk prosecution, or costly ‘go away’ payments.
“In a landmark case in Melbourne, a cafe owner and staff were ordered to pay $335,000 after a prolonged and vicious bullying campaign against a young staff member who later committed suicide.”
According to Mr Biddle, even what seems like an insignificant action can be a problem if it is repeated causing the recipient distress.
“The national Safe Work Australia draft Code of Practice suggests that even ‘eye-rolling’ can be seen as a bullying incident,” he said. “That might seem a trivial action to some, but to others it could be a genuinely humiliating, especially if it was a prolonged behaviour.
“Australian culture has always celebrated the larrikin element, with joking and sly remarks accepted as part of everyday banter, but what if someone is offended by this joking around in the workplace? What if they feel they have to endure this day after day?
“In this tough economic climate people are likely to put up with poor behaviour for as long as possible rather than leave a job so, if you look at it this way, bullying can be seen as a threat to their livelihood and their ability to do their job.”
Mr Biddle said all businesses needed to be aware of the issues surrounding bullying and should educate staff as to what kind of behaviour is acceptable in the workplace.
“The larger end of town has the manpower and the dollars to put in place detailed OH&S plans to cope with incidents, but the issue is often ignored in smaller businesses.
“Those who put their hands up to report bullying need to be supported not ostracised, or labelled a trouble maker, as is often the case.”
But Mr Biddle said there are some simple tips smaller business could follow to prevent workplace bullying incidents, including: searching websites such as SafeWork SA and Safe Work Australia to determine the appropriate Codes of Practice for their industry; putting in place a simple Code of Conduct document for employees; and conducting education.
“It’s really important that businesses understand prevention is better than a cure – a dispute is costly and allegations of bullying can be just as damaging as a court case, so it’s better to be across the issue and prepared, just in case.”
** Workplace survey into bullying conducted by Essential Research 2012.