Australian Workplace Bullying Policy May Cause More Harm Than Good

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Australian Workplace Bullying Policy May Cause More Harm Than Good

Workers’ compensation claims are made by workers who suffer such a significant workplace injury that compulsory workers compensation insurance is required to finance their rehabilitation and return to work if possible. Workers’ compensation claims are the main indicator of how well work health and safety laws assist in reducing the number of workplace injuries in Australia. The 2020 Australian Productivity Commission report on Metal Health estimated the cost of workplace bullying in Australia to be between $22 billion and $47.4 billion per year.

Since the introduction of the National Harmonised Work Health and Safety Act across Australia from 2011, there has been a consistent reduction in the number of workers compensation claims for workplace physical and psychological injury. However, since the introduction of the Fair Work Anti-bullying legislation in 2014 and Safe Work Australia Guide to Preventing Bullying in 2016, the number of workers compensation claims for psychological and bullying injury claims has increased significantly. If the Anti-bullying laws and guidelines for business were working as they were intended after the 2012 Commonwealth Senate enquiry “Bullying we just want it to stop”, you would expect to see a reduction in these figures at the least. But, to see an increase would indicate that the changes may be causing more workplace bullying to occur, not stopping it.

Under the Work Health and Safety Acts organisations are required to prevent physical and psychological injury before it happens. In 2014 the Fair Work Anti-bullying amendment Act introduced a definition of workplace bullying which required the injury to be repeated and exempted injury caused by some management action. By restricting the definition of ‘workplace bullying’, the example corporate policy created by Safe Work Australia protected unreasonable behaviour that was now not defined as bullying, regardless of whether it poses a risk to a worker’s health and safety. Because of these extra requirements to be classified as bullying, some psychological injury claims are classified as general mental stress rather than bullying or harassment, which have also increased since the introduction of the Anti-bullying laws.

The responsibility should rest with Australian business owners, managers and workers to decide what an Australian workplace should look like when we interact with each other. If we believe we should respect others, take responsibility for our actions and show fairness to all, we can do that without any Government intervention. Standard WHS practices can help produce integrated Human Resource (HR) policies and employment contracts to create a Psychological Safety Culture in conjunction with organisation-wide Positive Organisational Behaviour, conflict management and emotional awareness education.

The new generations of Australian’s are way ahead of us on positive group behaviour. In pre-school, they are taught to recognise emotions in facial expressions and tell others to: “stop it, I don’t like it!” if they receive unwanted negative behaviour. In primary and secondary schools, they know how to relate to others using Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) and other social and emotional learning skills. It’s our turn now to develop Positive Organisational Behaviour policies and skills to stop workplace bullying before it can inflict psychological harm on our children as they enter the workforce.

Kevin Gilmore-Burrell LLB MBA

© Empathyse ® Anti-bullying Consulting 2020

Creating Positive Workplaces