Know Your Rights: Workplace Bullying





Workplace Bullying


Workplace bullying is a significant problem in many workforces, and unfortunately the medical profession is not immune to this.

In this week of ‘Know Your Rights’ we look at bullying in the workplace and how to respond if you believe you are the victim of conduct that constitutes bullying, or, are accused of bullying someone.

What is bullying?
Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Some examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Offensive and abusive remarks;
  • Shouting;
  • Aggressive and intimidating conduct;
  • Humiliating conduct;
  • Unfair and unjustified criticism;
  • Spreading rumours;
  • Disadvantaging someone in a deliberate fashion such as changing their roster or duties;
  • Physical contact.

Repeated behaviour refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can involve a range of behaviours over time.

Bullying in the workplace can be directed downwards from managers to workers, between co-workers or even upwards from workers to managers.

It is important to note that bullying does not include reasonable management action if it is carried out in a reasonable manner, such as reasonable feedback on an employee’s performance.

What to do if you think you are being bullied?
If you are employed in a public hospital, the Industrial Relations Act 1996 (NSW) applies to your employment. Unlike employees covered by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), there are no anti-bullying laws in the NSW jurisdiction. Notwithstanding that, a range of policies and procedures apply to your employment that protect you from workplace bullying. In addition, failing to prevent a psychological or physical injury arising from workplace bullying can result in breaches of Work Health and Safety Laws.

Steps to take if you believe you are being subjected to bullying:

       request that the behaviour stop. If you can, firmly and politely tell the person that their behaviour is unreasonable and ask them to stop. They may not realise their behaviour is unreasonable or the effect their behaviour is having on you, so they need to be given the opportunity to change. You could ask your supervisor (unless the person is your supervisor), health and safety representative or a union rep to be with you when you approach the person.

       seek assistance from ASMOF as soon as possible;

       raise it with your health and safety representative (HSR): Your HSR can provide you with advice and support for your situation and represent your views to management.

       obtain a copy of the relevant Policy Directive; Bullying - Prevention and Management of Workplace Bullying in NSW Health .

       keep file notes of any relevant conduct or incidents, this should include what happened, dates and times, who was involved, names of witnesses and, where possible, copies of any documents.

       there are a variety of ways to address bullying, these may include:

            lodging a formal grievance or complaint;

            lodging an anonymous complaint;

            raising the issue informally with the perpetrator (only if you feel comfortable);

            talking privately to a trusted supervisor;

            making a worker’s compensation claim or a TPD claim;

For our members covered by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), such as those employed at Family Planning NSW or the Royal Flying Doctor Service, there is an additional legal option available under the federal anti-bullying legislation which allows an employee to seek an order that the bullying stop promptly. However, the laws do not entitle bullying victims to monetary compensation.

What to do if you are accused of engaging in bullying conduct?
Being informed that you have been accused of bullying can come as an upsetting shock. It is important to seek advice from ASMOF as we can ensure that you are provided procedural fairness and guidance throughout the process.

Steps to take:

  • contact ASMOF for advice;
  • obtain a copy of the allegations;
  • seek clear particulars of the allegations when they are unclear;
  • consider your response to allegations prior to attending any meeting to respond to the allegations; and
  • have a support person, such as a union representative with you at any meeting.
The wide experience and knowledge of our ASMOF Industrial Officers can assist our members in situations when they believe they are being bullied and harassed or when they have been accused of bullying other members of staff. Contact the ASMOF office if you would like assistance.

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