Workplace Bullying – it’s Criminal.

The Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011 was passed by the Victorian Parliament in June last year. Also known as ‘Brodie’s Law’, this the first law of its kind in Australia to cover all forms of workplace bullying including threats, abusive language and abusive acts. This means that in Victoria workplace bullying is now a crime and carries a penalty up to 10 years’ jail for those found guilty. 

I have seen various surveys reporting up to 35% of Australian workers claiming they have been bullied in the workforce with almost half saying they have witnessed their colleagues being bullied or discriminated against at work. Whilst I consider these statitics to be somewhat overstated given that most people do not understand what workplace bullying is, I do know that it is an increasing issue for Australian business.

Now that the stakes have risen to that of criminal charges for those found guilty, there has never been a greater incentive to ensure your business is equipped to manage the inevitable workplace bullying claim, or better yet avoid them altogether. Sadly, most small to medium businesses are simply not equipped to deal with allegations of bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

Consider this very simple audit – does your business have any of the following:

· A Code of Conduct?
· A Bullying and/or Harassment Policy?
· A Dispute Resolution Procedure?
· A Performance Management or Counselling Process?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these – your business is at risk.

The fact is that your business is at risk even if you have some of these things in place. Having worked for many years as a senior HR practitioner and workplace investigator, my experience tells me that cases of bullying almost always result from a lack of policies and procedures as well as the training to deal with such issues before they escalate into formal complaints. Allegations of bullying often arise from unresolved conflict within the workplace, lack of role clarity or poorly executed performance management. Whilst these might seem like complex issues, the implementation of preventative measures is incredibly simple and inexpensive.

Of course in ensuring that your business has the appropriate mechanisms in place to deal with workplace bullying means that not only are you protecting the business but also the safety of your employees. Employers should aim to create a workplace culture in which bullying is never tolerated, but also one that provides a safe avenue for the reporting and management of complaints.

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