As with many workplace issues, the first element of a prevention strategy for workplace bullying is to have a clear, up to date and well communicated policy in place.
The need for Australian organisations to have a firm handle on workplace bullying has never been clearer, with developments such as the new anti-bullying laws which took effect in January this year.
Implementing a comprehensive anti-bullying policy can help reduce the number of incidents at your workplace and protect the organisation should issues arise. What are four of the most important things a policy should cover?
1. Clear definitions
The Fair Work Commission’s Anti-bullying Benchbook defines bullying as follows:
Workplace bullying occurs when:
- an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work,
- the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Reasonable management action conducted in a reasonable manner does not constitute workplace bullying.
The Benchbook also offers examples of bullying behaviour and examples of what is not considered bullying, it is important to include these in your policy too. Try to eliminate grey areas so workers are clear about whether a particular behaviour can be defined as bullying or not. This is essential, not only to make workers aware of how their own behaviour might be perceived but also to consider the behaviour of others towards them, particularly if they are thinking of making a complaint about someone’s behaviour.
2. Consequences and disciplinary action
In addition to a clear definition and examples, you should also establish the consequences an employee may face should they be found to have breached the bullying policy.
Employees will thus be aware of the gravity of the matter and understand what they can expect in terms of disciplinary action should they cross the line.
This section should also cover the consequences of making a frivolous or vexatious complaint. Workers must be aware that to make a complaint which is not genuine is a serious matter and will be treated as such by the organisation, potentially leading to disciplinary action. In some cases, a person found to have made a false complaint intended to harm the other party may also face a defamation claim.
3. Transparency and openness
As the new jurisdiction of Fair Work Commission allows workers to report directly to the commission more easily, it is important to encourage your employees to approach the relevant person at your organisation first; be it a manager, Contact Officer or HR team member.
Being clear about the organisation’s procedures for documenting and dealing with bullying, and providing an efficient means for workers to submit their grievances and have them addressed will help to show that the organisation treats these matters seriously and is committed to the health and safety of its workforce. Ensure that victimisation is covered in the policy, showing that it will not be tolerated and communicating to workers that they should not fear coming forward with complaints.
4. Regular reviews
Your policy should not be a static document, but rather one that is flexible enough to change with the times – for example, when new bullying laws come into effect.
Workplace bullying training should be provided to all employees, including managers. This should thoroughly cover the policy and procedures within your organisation as a comprehensive policy is worthless unless it is effectively communicated.