Shared from the 11/29/2019 Sydney Morning Herald eEdition

Be ready to protect staff and business


Work-related injury and disease encompassing mental stress injuries caused by workplace bullying costs the Australian economy tens of billions of dollars a year, according to Safe Work Australia research.

The impact to an individual business can be profound.

If an employer receives a complaint of bullying it is critical it be treated seriously and investigated promptly, for the benefit of both employee wellbeing and safety and the health of a business, says Lauren Barel, a director at Workdynamic Australia.

The Sydney-based firm is sought out by ASX 100 companies and public entities across the country to resolve workplace bullying complaints and reduce legal risk, she says.

Safe Work Australia’s 2013-14 report Psychosocial Health and Safety and Bullying in Australian Workplaces estimated median costs for an accepted bullying and harassment claim at more than $20,000.

“The most effective way to stamp out bullying is to take steps to prevent it from happening and taking complaints seriously when they arise,” says Barel.

“Like many workplace safety issues, industry and role-specific education and training programs work well to prevent bullying, discrimination and harassment.”

Barel says educating employees on what does and does not constitute bullying is key.

“For example, reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way is not workplace bullying,” she says.

“An employer is able to undertake a performance management process in relation to an employee and, provided the process is undertaken in a reasonable manner, this will not amount to bullying.” It is also critical for managers to be expressly clear about types of conduct that will not be tolerated in the workplace.

“Of particular importance, workplace policies should make clear the standards of behaviour which are expected of all workers,” says Barel.

“It is also important to recognise that antibullying laws do not hold people to an unattainable ‘ideal’ standard of behaviour.

“Instead, they are designed to eliminate behaviours towards workers that are repeated, unreasonable and create a risk to health and safety.’’

Clear and accessible procedures must be available to enable employees to understand how they can lodge a complaint if subjected to workplace bullying, and the appropriate personnel to contact. In more complex or contested cases, if complaints can’t be resolved by such means as facilitated discussion or mediation, a formal investigation may be required.

“A properly conducted investigation will allow the employer to take decisive action as to next steps, including the possibility of disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment,” says Barel.

“Investigations need to be approached carefully. Given the serious outcomes that can eventuate, it is important that participants are afforded procedural fairness, that the process is transparent and confidentiality is maximised at all stages.

“In some cases, it is recommended to engage a third party investigator who can apply expert skills to ensuring a fair, objective and unbiased outcome. A third party can also ensure minimal disruption to a business while the matter is investigated and deliver a report that can reduce the risk of legal claims.

‘‘For example, if it’s decided that someone’s employment should be terminated, it is important to be able to base such a decision on reliable findings.”

By the same token, Barel adds, the outcome of an investigation could justify an employer’s decision to dismiss a complaint, thereby reducing the risk of being accused of failing to ensure a safe work environment.

“If an investigation or some other form of dispute resolution is not implemented – or the complaint remains unresolved – this exposes an employer to the risk of a bullying claim within the Fair Work Commission or court system,’’ she says.

See this article in the e-Edition Here