Develop and implement strategies to protect workers from bullying.
The WorkWell Toolkit provides
Practical step by step ideas, tips and suggestions to help employers of different sizes prevent mental injury and create a safe and mentally healthy workplace. Use tools, templates and resources to focus on work-related factors that impact mental health and learn good practice. Check out the full range of topics on the Toolkit.
Step 1: Learn about bullying
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed at an employee or group of employees. Bullying can happen in any workplace and can also happen outside of work hours, at work-related events and on social media.
Some examples of bullying include repeated:
undermining a worker's work performance or position
unfair allocation of tasks and/or working hours
Key stats and facts
1 in 10
Australian employees said they have been bullied in the workplace in the last 6 months.
Safe Work Australia, 2015
Victorians were paid WorkCover payments for bullying and harassment claims in 2016.
40% of School deputies / Assistants reported a higher prevalence of bullying.
Principal Health & Wellbeing report, 2018
How does bullying affect your business?
Bullying at work can harm your business in several ways. It can lead to lower productivity, reduced morale and increased absences and mental injury claims. It could even lead to staff resignations, requiring additional time and money to hire and train new staff.
What are your rights and responsibilities at work?
Employers must provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and free from risks to health, including psychological health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This means doing everything a reasonable person in the same position would do.
Employers must consult with employees on a range of workplace issues including health and safety issues that affect, or are likely to affect, them.
Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety in the workplace, and the health and safety of others. They must also cooperate with employers to create a safe environment, and they must not deliberately cause harm.
Watch these videos on workplace bullying to learn more
Workplace bullying – Employer responsibilities
Workplace bullying – Employee rights
Step 2: Consult your employees
Consultation can be done in a number of ways. Depending on your workplace, it can be as simple as casually walking around your workplace having a conversation, or as formal as setting up a health and safety committee.
Good consultation has lots of benefits – it leads to better decision making and greater cooperation and trust between employers and employees, who get a better understanding of each other’s views.
Consultation isn't just good practice though, it's actually a legal requirement for employers. Employers must consult with employees including health and safety representatives (if any), about matters that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect, their health and safety. This includes identifying whether bullying may be a hazard at the workplace, and working out how to eliminate or reduce the risk of it occurring. At a minimum, it must involve sharing information about an issue, giving employees reasonable opportunity to share their views on that issue, and taking those views into consideration.
To learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as how best to consult:
Step 3: Identify hazards and risks
A hazard is a term that means anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Think of hazards like 'situations' or 'things' in the workplace that can hurt someone, either physically or mentally. The risk is the potential of it actually happening.
For example, a cable on the floor is a physical hazard. The risk is tripping on that cable and being physically injured. The same applies to hazards that affect our mental health – these are known as psychosocial hazards.
Bullying is an example of a psychosocial hazard. The risk is that exposure to repeated and unreasonable behaviour could lead to an injury.
Unreasonable pressure and setting impossible deadlines for an employee or group of employees. This could include setting tasks that are above or beyond a person's skill level without training or support.
Often multiple hazards can be present at the same time and can combine to increase the risk of harm occurring. Identifying bullying as a hazard and understanding factors that contribute to it occurring is the best way to prevent it from happening.
Bullying can happen wherever people work together. Some things might make bullying more likely, such as:
poor communication between employees
leadership that doesn't provide sufficient or equal support to employees
employees that work remotely, alone or in isolation
insufficient training including inductions
Managing these factors well should decrease the risk of bullying.
Step 4: Assess and control risks
Assess the risk of bullying occurring
A risk assessment will help you understand the risks to your employees' health, and how to prioritise your efforts to manage them.
It is good practice to identify hazards, both individually and together, that are creating risks to health and safety. Once you have identified the hazards, you can assess the risk of them occurring.
Bullying may co-occur with another hazard. For example, poor support by leadership may increase the risk of bullying between people or teams. Look at the root cause of the problem, rather than just the bullying behaviour itself.
Consider how often and for how long employees are exposed to bullying. Think about the potential impacts on mental and physical health if the risk is not managed. Bullying can be a single incident, or it can build up over time.
Control the risks of bullying
A control simply means 'ways to manage' an issue. Controls are things you put in place to eliminate or reduce risks. The list could be endless, but it's really just about taking action, so far as reasonably practicable, to manage the risk of bullying happening in your workplace.
Here are some ways that employers can take action (or 'implement a control') to create a safe workplace.
Employers should encourage employees to report incidents promptly. Employees need to know that all reports are confidential, and that they will not be blamed or penalised, or receive further harm.
Witnesses to bullying are often best placed to intervene when it occurs. Witnesses taking action is an effective strategy that provides the earliest possible intervention. Encourage bystanders to intervene but only when they feel safe to do.
During onboarding, employers should discuss acceptable behaviours and refer to relevant OHS policies and procedures. Employees should also receive regular training on how to prevent and respond to bullying. Employees should also receive bystander training on when and how to intervene. This will build skills such as practising verbally discouraging unwanted behaviours and knowing when to anonymously reporting the behaviour to the employer if it does not stop. Employers should advise bystanders they will receive support.
If you have a policy, make sure everyone knows where to find it!
Step 5: Share, review and improve
A safe and mentally healthy workplace needs ongoing commitment and engagement.
If you have a bullying policy, review it every year or when new information about bullying becomes available. You want to check whether the controls you've implemented are still relevant and effective (i.e. training, reporting).
By sharing the outcomes of these reviews, as well as suggestions and recommendations for improvements, you can keep the conversation going. This will continue to build trust and cooperation between you and your employees. Consultation must be undertaken before making any changes and these changes must be communicated to your employees.
Set a calendar appointment now to review your policy in 12 months.
Need help or advice about an issue?
WorkSafe Advisory Service
WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.
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