Tag Archives: bully

Beware of belittling

We discussed bullying in an article not so long ago, and workplaces continue to be fraught with bullies and their victims. Thus, we continue our quest to help employers and employees recognise bullying behaviour and deal with it appropriately.

Bullying behaviour may not be instantly recognisable, or you may not be able to point to one particular incident of bullying. Often bullying comprises of an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Many people do not realise that the unfavourable behaviour directed towards them is “bullying” behaviour. Victims may not want to report the behaviour for fear of not being taken seriously, or being told to “harden up”. Employers may see a victim as being overly sensitive rather than genuinely investigating their concerns. If bullying behaviour is not dealt with appropriately it can have detrimental effects on both the employer and the victim(s). Bullying is not something to be tossed aside and ignored.

Bullying behaviour includes (but is not limited to): 

  • using fowl or offensive language
  • nitpicking, fault-finding or trivial criticism
  • making threats
  • sarcasm, hostility or rudeness
  • interrupting
  • belittling
  • providing instructions without reasonable explanation
  • setting unreasonable goals or deadlines
  • refusing reasonable requests without justification
  • excessive scrutiny
  • refusal to acknowledge contributions or achievements
  • attempts to undermine value and worth
  • isolating, treating differently
  • denying training necessary to fulfil duties
  • initiating disciplinary procedures for trivial reasons

A notable decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia is an excellent example of the importance of addressing bullying behaviour appropriately. In Swan v Monash Law Book Cooperative [2013] VSC 326 the employer was ordered to pay a total of just under $600,000 in damages to an employee who had been bullied over a 5 year period. It was found that the employer:

  • failed to properly define relations and expectations concerning workplace conduct;
  • failed to appropriately train employees to deal appropriately with bullying behaviour and complaints;
  • failed to consider appropriate measures to address inappropriate conduct, and a failure to inform the bully that his behaviour was inappropriate;
  • failed to intervene and investigate complaints within a timely manner when complaints were first raised;
  • failed to have a formal structure or complaints mechanism in place for employees to seek assistance when bullying occurred;
  • failed to monitor the situation;
  • failed to have a safe return to work strategy.

The Supreme Court’s decision demonstrates the onerous obligations on employers to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, and the high risks employer face if they do not comply. It is not enough to simply change a victims’ reporting lines, or transfer a bully from one team to another. Bullying can often occur because of a workplace’s culture or lack of policies and procedures addressing suitable and acceptable behaviour. Not only do these policies have to exist, but they need to be implemented appropriately and efficiently.

While New Zealand is slightly lagging behind Australia in relation to health and safety laws, and certainly in terms of compensatory awards in bullying cases, WorkSafe NZ’s bullying guidelines released in February indicate we are following in Australia’s footsteps in recognising the importance of cracking down on bullying behaviour. It is vital that employers have appropriate measures in place to deal with bullies and victims.

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Workplace bullying…how to deal

Lessons from Ron Burgundy – dealing with workplace bullies

Freddie Shapp: “You’re on the 2 AM to 5 AM slot.”

Ron Burgundy: “What? That’s the graveyard shift!”

Brick Tamland: “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!”anchorman2

It may take more than a ghost to scare Brick, he’s one tough guy, but he doesn’t cope so well when it comes to bullies. Workplace bullying is responsible for costing kiwi employers tens of millions of dollars every year. According to a joint university study in 2012 one in five kiwi workers suffer from workplace bullying. It’s no surprise bullying costs employers so much when you look at the effects on those targeted, some of which include:

  • high levels of stress;
  • reduced job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation;
  • withdrawal, leading to decreased productivity;
  • decreased concentration,
  • absenteeism and higher staff turnover.

Bullying affects everyone: the victim, their family, their friends, other employees and a business’s reputation. A bully can transform a pleasant workplace into a dreaded climate of fear, frustration and disconnect. Victims may reach out to co-workers to gain sympathy and support, causing a ripple effect throughout the workplace that may have the effect of normalising and enforcing the behaviour. 

Auzzie’s position on workplace bullying

In 2006 the tragic suicide of 19 year old Brodie Panlock in Melbourne spurred placing the issue of workplace bullying firmly on the forefront of Victoria’s legislative agenda.

bullyingBrodie was a waitress who sustained constant bullying from 3 male coworkers, (one of which she was formerly romantically involved with). The boss was aware of the bullying and did nothing to prevent it other than saying to the men, ‘take it out the back’. Among her list of torments she had fish oil poured all over her and in her bag, was spat on and called fat and ugly.

With no specific legislation dealing addressing workplace bullying at the time, the 3 workers pleaded guilty to failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons and the boss was found guilty of failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment.  All were fined personally and the boss’s company was fined an extra $220,000 – being $355,000 in total.

The state of Victoria recognized the seriousness of the issue and responded in 2011 by introducing legislation that made workplace bullying a crime punishable up to ten years in jail.

How to deal?

It is important to identify your style of dealing with conflict. In his recent book “Employed But Under Fire” Michael Smyth poses the crucial question, do you fight or flight? His book explains how to use your initial reactions in a positive way to deal with bullying. For some, their immediate response to conflict is to ignore it and walk away, while others stand up and fight. No matter your personality, if you are being bullied you are not alone, and there are options out there. Smyth’s book covers various ways to tackle bullying at work.bully1

Often people are nervous about seeking help, or they may feel their situation doesn’t warrant legal action. Specialists in employment law (such as BuckettLaw) deal with workplace bullies on a daily basis. Seeking legal advice will help you weigh up your options and assess the likelihood of a successful personal grievance claim.

Employers must keep in mind that workplace conditions may trigger or enable bullying. This can include workers knowing that senior staff ignore accusations of workplace bullying, and an overly excessive competitive or stressful work environment may also trigger workplace bullying. The employer DOES become culpable for the bullying once he becomes aware of the problem and will be liable for compensation if the allegations are proven correct. The most important thing for employees and employers to know is that once awareness is raised of a bullying situation, employers have an obligation to investigate the matter and do all they can to stop it. Employees should keep a diary of the incidents of bullying.

Ensuring the happiness and safety of staff ensures a more efficient and productive workplace … so all business should do all they can to combat bullying! We need strong bosses to combat this problem – creating an at work environment where it is very clear that bullying WILL NOT be tolerated.

The Law

Employers may be liable under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 for failure to address bullying allegations where stress is identified as a workplace hazard. If complaints are ignored, the employer is failing to take practicable steps to ensure a safe workplace environment.

It is important for employees to know that discrimination in the work place on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation etc. is prohibited under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993.sos bully

There are plenty of cases out there where judges rule in favour of the victims of workplace bullying. In Corbett v UDP Shopfitters LTD the Employment Relations Authority found the applicant was subjected to prolonged abuse by co-workers, which fell outside acceptable banter. This was based on the definition that bullying and harassment is “something that has happened that is unwelcome, unwarranted and causes a detrimental effect”. Corbett claimed his supervisor would swear at him and abuse him, and another supervisor also abused him making derogatory remarks about his Irish Nationality. The employer failed to take action after being told of the abuse, telling Corbett to “suck it up”.  The employer was ordered to pay Corbett $3,161 reimbursement of lost wages and $10,000 compensation.

In August 2012 the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry’s labour group began consulting with a variety of agencies to create a best-practice guideline. This is the closest the government has come to directly addressing workplace bullying, without so far as to formally introducing a code of practice or amending legislation. We are desperately awaiting arrival of this guideline.

There will always be bullies – there will always be those who are jealous or feel threatened by the capabilities of someone in a lower position than themselves. There were bullies at kindergarten and there will be bullies at work. But awareness is increasing and people are not standing by and letting them get away with it. Make some noise, and help us at BuckettLaw help you.

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