In this special post, Michael Cosgrove from Workplace Law Specialists follows up on issues raised in last Tuesday’s Workplace Bullying and Harassment webinar.
It would be a rare person who could safely say beyond a shadow of any doubt that they have never been the victim of bullying in some form. Be it in the playground of the school, the university cafeteria, or the office boardroom, everyone has at some stage witnessed, or been subjected to bullying.
Whilst I don’t believe that the level of bullying has overly increased, the onset of social media and recent suicides of victims being thrust into the media spotlight, there is now a real conscious effort by employers, parents, victims and support groups to rid the Australian culture of entrenched bullying.
There is now a slow progression by governments to support the anti-bullying movement. Facebook pages, public events, mentions during question time, it all works towards providing victims with the necessary support networks they need, as well as working towards educating people that bullying is not cool, it’s not socially acceptable, and that it will not be tolerated.
My advice on dealing with bullying has always been to use a collective approach. When the victim realises they have people to watch their backs, and the bully knows they are outnumbered, only then will we see a shift culturally in this country. Openly communicate to your friends, family, workmates, that you are their for them if they need help. That should they be a victim, no matter how small or big, that you are their to help them.
Bullying can take many forms. Harmless jokes, innuendo, passing comments in the hallway, all the way through to physical altercation, sometimes violently. The more profile form of bullying today that gets the most air play in the media is of course “cyber bullying”. While the onset of twitter, facebook, instagram and the various other platforms has improved and revolutionised the way the world communicates, it has also opened up a whole new avenue for bullies to ply their trade.
Employers must play a leading role in combatting bullying. People spend a considerable amount of their time working. Therefore employers must ensure that they take as many preventative measures as possible to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the workplace.
Developing a robust Workplace Policy, backed by a detailed Procedure is paramount. The policy needs to inform employees of their rights and responsibilities. It must clearly detail the employers responsibilities and how both the employer and employee will work together.
Communication is key. Clear, Concise and Consistent communication between employees and their employer is the critical first step. Clearly communicating zero tolerance to workplace bullying. Being concise about their rights and the employers responsibilities in ensuring their health and safety. Consistently reinforcing all of the above.
Now for some reason all the measures the employer puts in place is not enough to prevent a bullying incident occurring, there are some core steps that employers must take to support the employees.
Listen to the employees concerns. Be supportive and reassuring that you will deal with the issues in a confidential and timely manner.
Gather all the evidence, no matter how trivial you think it may be. Speak with witnesses in a professional manner in a relaxing environment. Assure them that they are part of the collective action to stop bullying in the workplace.
Give the alleged bully the benefit of the doubt. Speak with them in an open and professional manner also. Listen to their version of events and ensure that they are given all the evidence against them in order for them to be able to adequately defend themselves from the allegation.
Remember just because they are the alleged bully doesn’t automatically make them guilty.
Once your investigations have concluded make sure you attain the require standard of proof. In the case of the workplace it is on “the balance of probabilities”. Don’t make any hasty decisions on how to deal with the bully, make sure the punishment fits the crime.
After the dust has settled take the necessary time to continue to support the victim. Reinforce to the employees their obligations in terms of their behaviours in the workplace, and review and modify your strategies you put in place to ensure that the incident never occurs again.
Combatting workplace bullying will potentially be the hardest thing an employer will need to do. Equally the hardest thing an employee has had to face. The prospect of significant impacts on the business are extremely high. The fallout from taking no action will have a domino affect throughout the employees.
My advice to any employee or employer is seek assistance. No one should have to face workplace bullying alone.
“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized, and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered” – Michael J Fox.