As the House of Representatives Inquiry into bullying continues there is a greater focus on bullying in the media. So it is opportune then to examine some key elements of managing bullying in the workplace.

If it feels like bullying, then it is

Many forms of bullying can constitute a crime, and can be referred to the police, who will investigate on the balance of the evidence and then press charges if appropriate.

In a workplace this is not the standard employers must apply.  In the workplace the first thing employers need to understand is that bullying is a subjective claim. That is to say that if an employee feels they have been bullied, then they have at least for the purposes of the businesses response.

Unlike the police there is not a series of different responses depending on the quality of the claim, the evidence, the victim and other mitigating circumstances.  In a workplace there is only one response that is appropriate from an employerthat is to treat every bullying incident, claim and rumour as if it happened to the victim in plain view.

One response: treat it seriously and act appropriately

When dealing with bullying in the workplace all levels of management must respond appropriately. This means following established business policies and procedures consistently, treating the claim as serious, investigating appropriately, reporting back to victim and ensuring that confidentiality is maintained and that victimisation of any of the parties does not occur. ACAPMA members are reminded that ACAPMAlliance has a series of resources from Quick Reference Guides to template letters and investigation and reporting checklists for bullying that can assist with ensuring compliant and consistent responses in this area.

When you know about it, you must act

ACAPMA is also often asked if the business is required to act on rumours of bullying if the parties do not come forward on their own. The short answer is yes. While the employees involved may have no issue with behaviour and may both agree it is “all in good fun”, it is important for the business to handle even rumours of bullying appropriately.  This is to ensure the business in compliant in the way they are treating the hypothetical two employees, but also as there may be a third employee who is watching the exchange and feels when management does not act, that they are condoning bullying and thus that third employee will not feel safe bringing forward their own bullying claim.  This opens up the employer for bullying claims after the hypothetical third employee has left employment, when appropriate action will not mitigate the impact of the bullying claim opening the employer up for adverse action claims.

Bullying in the workplace is a risk to employees health and safety. Knowing how to appropriately handle bullying claims and rumours, as well as building a culture where employees feel safe at work and comfortable brining forward claims to management, is important to business success. It is a difficult and confusing area of workplace relations, but one that it is imperative to get right.

ACAPMA members are reminded that ACAPMAlliance has a series of resources from Quick Reference Guides to template letters and investigation and reporting checklists for bullying that can assist with ensuring compliant and consistent responses in this area, and can call on the advice and support of the ACAPMAlliance Workplace Relations Professionals on 1300 160 270.

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business.  They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by  calling 1300 160 270 and speaking to one of ACAPMA Workplace Relations Professionals its free for members.  Click here to apply for ACAPMA Membership.