There would be few workplaces that have not at some stage experienced an allegation of bullying or harassment.
Research suggests that it is an issue of concern to a great number of workers, with enormous flow-on effects for business productivity.
Effective from June 1 last year, the Division of Workplace Health and Safety published an Advisory Standard entitled ‘Prevention of Workplace Harassment Advisory Standard 2004’.
The introduction of a specific publication on workplace harassment is expected to encourage complaints and result in enforcement of action against offenders. Put simply, workplace bullying has become more serious.
Allegations and incidents of workplace harassment can happen in any workplace, so it pays to have a clear understanding of just what it is. Workplace harassment is defined within the new Standard as subjecting a person to repeated behaviour that is;
A. unwelcome and unsolicited; and
B. the person considers to be offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening; and
C. a reasonable person would consider to be offensive, humiliating or threatening.
Based on this definition, not only must the person being harassed consider the behaviour to be offensive, intimidating etc, but so must a reasonable person in that position.
The Advisory Standard provides a variety of examples of harassing behaviours, indicating they can range from subtle intimidation to overt aggression. Examples include:
• repeated threats of dismissal or other punishment for no reason
• abusing a person loudly, particularly when others are present
• constant ridicule and put-downs
• sabotaging a person’s work, for example by deliberately withholding information, hiding documents, not passing on messages etc.
• excluding and isolating a person from workplace activities
• persistent and unjustified criticisms
• spreading gossip or false and malicious rumours about a person
The Standard specifies that these provisions are not designed to cover normal and occasional differences of opinion or conflict within the workplace. It is focused on behaviour that is repeated, unwelcome and unsolicited, and which offends, intimidates or humiliates a person.
It is important to note that workplace harassment can occur between people in any direction within a workplace, whether laterally, upwards (such as a worker harassing a manager) or downwards (a supervisor harassing a worker).
The Standard endeavours to provide advice about ways to prevent and control exposure to the risk of injury or illness created by workplace harassment. Advisory Standards are not mandatory, but pursuant to the Workplace Health and Safety Act where an Advisory Standard is in place, a person must either follow the standard or adopt and follow another method that similarly manages exposure to the risk. (section 26(3)).
If you have a bullying and harassment issue at your workplace, contact your solicitor for advice.