Are all bullies bad people?

By Jeff Salton on April 18th, 2017

Portrait of a sad man thinking

Do your [anti] bullying policies deal with a bully who admits his comments towards some workers could be construed as bullying, although it was unintentional?

How do you discipline such a worker – a manager who is good at what he does and is not what you would call a ‘bad person’?

You don’t want to appear to accept any type of bullying behaviour or have other workers think that you are ‘playing favourites’ with this worker. What are your alternatives, without breaking any workplace health and safety obligations you have to the bullied workers?

Workplace health and safety lawyer, and Editor-in-Chief of the Portner Press Health & Safety Handbook, Michael Selinger, says that under the WHS law, officers are required to exercise due diligence. A breach of this obligation may arise from failure by the officer to ensure that the organisation:

  • has available for use, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise the risks of bullying to health and safety, or
  • has, and implements, processes to enable the organisation to comply with its WHS obligations.

“In relation to workplace bullying, businesses should ensure that they have in place robust workplace bullying policies and procedures, which are communicated and enforced in the workplace,” he says.

His suggestion is to make sure that HR and WHS staff take a coordinated approach to managing complaints and reducing the incidence of bullying, and to share knowledge, information and expertise.

Constructive assistance

Michael says companies have a few options if they have workers who have been found guilty of bullying but they believe would benefit from some constructive assistance. These include:

  • requiring staff, regardless of their position in the company, to attend educational seminars, workshops and/or undertake training in bullying;
  • if a policy on bullying exists within the companies, distributing it to all staff, reminding them of their rights and obligations when it comes to bullying;
  • having a speaker from HR, senior management (e.g. the CEO or managing director) or an external organisation come to staff meetings to discuss issues of acceptable behaviour;
  • approaching the ‘bully’ and recommending areas that may be improved upon, and suggesting that their behaviour be improved upon before any further review of their pay/commission structure can be done and/or potentially revoking such privileges; or
  • placing the manager on a performance improvement/management plan with set goals to be reached;
  • arranging an organisational development activity to strengthen your workers’ connections with one another and build understanding about different working and personal styles; and
  • providing access to an employee assistance program (EAP), if not already.

Michael says: “It is likely that you will discharge your duties to provide a safe work place under the WHS law, as well as reducing the likelihood of bullying complaints under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) if you take the above measures.”

Subscribers to the Health & Safety Handbook will know that the fully updated Chapter B1 – Bullying has a lot more information on workplace bulling and what you can do to prevent or minimise it.

Don’t risk making the wrong decision when it comes to workplace bullying – it can be very costly in Court and may also cost you one or more of your best workers.

Act now and order your copy of the Health & Safety Handbook today on an obligation-free trial.

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