Bullying in the Workplace – What Employers Need to Know

 On 6 April 2011 the Victorian parliament introduced a Bill to amend the Crimes Act so that serious workplace bullying could result in a jail term of up to 10 years. The definition of what type of behaviour would be covered by the legislation includes "using abusive or offensive words" that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm to a person (including self-harm).

Although Victoria is the first state to introduce legislation bringing this behaviour into the criminal sphere, if passed it is reasonable to suggest that other states will follow.

The introduction of this legislation reflects the wider problem of inappropriate workplace behaviour and making those responsible accountable for their actions. The proposed legislation would also cover online bullying which is of particular importance with the growing use of social media sites.

Implications for Employers
Employers need to be particularly diligent in ensuring:
1.    That they have clear policies and guidelines outlining what is acceptable behaviour,
2.    Defined processes for dealing with employees who do not abide by these policies and
3.    A policy covering use of social media both during and outside working hours.

ACTU president Ged Kearney emphasised the need for employers to provide a safe working environment where employees feel free from harassment:

“These laws will hopefully help deter people from undesired behaviour but it shouldn’t suggest to employers that it’s no longer their job to provide a safe workplace for all employees. Every workplace should have policies and procedures to deal with bullying and harassment, as it’s essential for employers to provide a safe and harassment-free environment for all their workers.”

She went on to state that not only should serious bullying in the workplace be dealt with as a criminal matter, but that for employers it is also an OHS issue. This means that the onus is still upon employers to not only ensure the workplace is a safe place, but also that there are transparent policies and procedures with clear guidelines for grievance procedures so that employees are assured that any incidents of bullying will be taken seriously and will be dealt with appropriately.

For further details about workplace bullying, policies and procedures for employers including social media policies, or any other workplace issue please contact:

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