Workplace bullying is a very real and pervasive problem in the Australian workforce cutting across all industries, all professions and all levels of the workforce – it can affect anyone and can be perpetrated by both genders and between management, employees and co-workers. In some industries such as health, welfare, education and government/semi-government services, the bullying statistics tend to be far higher ranging from 25%, 50% to 97%.

We are beginning to see more employees and more industries willing to step forward to acknowledge the issue and seek solutions to prevent workplace bullying. Victimised employees are seeking recourse through FWC’s anti-bullying jurisdiction which empowers them to obtain a FWC ‘stop bullying’ order against their perpetrator. Recent news has also highlighted two industries with widespread bullying cultures –the medical profession and government services, reinforcing the statistics above.

In the medical profession, bullying is an endemic problem affecting patient safety, ruining doctors’ careers and their mental health. In September last year, a media report of an Australasian College of Surgeons-commissioned study confirmed that nearly half of all surgeons have experienced discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment. Following this publication, the RACS (Royal Australian College of Surgeons) President publicly issued an apology over the ‘toxic culture’ prevalent among surgeons and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) promptly organised a summit to seek ways to deal with bullying, discrimination and harassment in the medical profession including implementation of “clear and safe” complaint mechanisms. Victoria Health Minister Jill Hennessy reinforced this with her comment on the importance of starting to breakdown some of the culture that had made it very difficult for medical doctors to make complains.

In addition, this month’s media has featured much publicity over a Victorian government officer’s excessive bullying behaviour. A government-commissioned inquiry confirmed the evidence of misbehaviour by a local government officer and his team of council staff. It has found the council to be “riven by conflict”, with widespread “bullying, harassment and inappropriate interventions by councillors pursuing their own wants and ward interests”. The inquiry found the government officer’s bullying to be so excessive that it caused one staff member to resign and another to be physically relocated. Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins admitted that while the structure and system of the council was broken, no individual was to blame and the fix would “take years”, adding that one in four employees had experienced bullying. Opposition leader Matthew Guy also said that culture issues at the council predated the government officer’s tenure; confirming the report’s findings of a deep-seated culture of bullying and harassment, with staff complaints ignored.

The findings to both the commissioned reports of the medical profession and the government council in question above is quite clear: workplace bullying is about changing the workplace culture, where everyone needs to be part of the solution to create a safe and supported environment in order for every employee to perform their job well. John Boardman, iHR’s Director of Workplace Relations, re-affirms this saying that both employees and the employer must recognise their obligations to provide a safe working environment. “This means if an employee observes inappropriate behaviour, they have an obligation to report it.” He further adds, “Under OH&S legislation, people can be individually liable for fines and so can the organisation, and they can be quite significant”.


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