Workplace Bullying Protection

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Workplace Bullying Protection

The Australian system of workplace bullying protection has four levels of intervention. At the top is when workplace bullying injury happens, and organisations deal with the consequences. In Australia like many other countries, at the second level of protection, we have work health and safety regulations to prevent workplace injury and are adapted to apply to bullying. These regulations provide regulators with the power to initiate prosecutions against organisations and provide no fault compensation where injury occurs. Regulators and victims can get orders to stop bullying activity reported to them and at level three organisations have a duty of care to prevent workplace bullying through their own organisational policy. Finally, organisations can use leadership to prevent bullying through positive organisational culture. It is through self-regulated organisational culture and policy that the government is relying on businesses to prevent bullying without over regulation or judicial penalties resulting after bullying injury occurs.

ProtectionActionWorkplace Bullying Definition
InjuryReactUnreasonable acts repeated regularly over time
LegalStopUnreasonable acts repeated
PolicyStopUnreasonable acts
CultureSkillsReasonable action

Workplace bullying was not widely recognised until the 1990’s. The first level of protection is business as usual, waiting until something goes wrong and then fixing it. If staff don’t like the way the business is run, they can leave, and someone else will replace them. If the business must pay more for workers compensation premiums or gets sued, they can be dealt with when it happens. The cost of this level of non-intervention is higher staffing costs and stifled creativity leading to task failure.

The second level of protection is bullying prevention regulations which are designed to exclude an organisation’s right to use reasonable management action to run their business. The effect of this policy can be to encourage bullying through inaction. The cost of this level of protection is that legally reasonable management action can cause bullying injury without being a breach to the regulations. This raises the same higher staffing costs and stifled creativity as doing nothing. The further cost is the legal costs of defending anti-bullying claims whether successful or not.

The third level of protection is organisational policy using the work health and safety risk management process required under the regulation’s duty of care to prevent workplace bullying. The current national example bullying policy represents the minimum level of protection equivalent to the second level of regulated protection to stop bullying after it is repeated. To protect employees from workplace bullying injury separate anti-bullying policy needs to prevent reasonable management action and unreasonable behaviour which poses a risk to health and safety before it is repeated. The cost of not doing so is to allow legal reasonable management action to cause bullying injury without protection and to incur legal costs for bullying claims where unreasonable behaviour is repeated.

The fourth level of protection is to change organisational culture through the actions of transformational leaders. This is done by producing anti-bullying policy which supports the goal of the desired organisational culture with a positive code of conduct that all employees are encouraged to display at work. To achieve the desired cultural change, employees need the conflict management and emotional intelligence skills to recognise and engage in constructive task conflict resolution with proper de-escalation strategies. They need emotional intelligence to recognise personal conflict and when it is degrading to bullying. These skills have long been under educated and need to be provided to all employees.

Kevin Gilmore-Burrell LLB MBA ©

Empathyse ™ Anti-bullying Consulting 2018