Yesterday, the Age reported a rise in workplace bullying claims putting small businesses under pressure and leading to time and money wasted investigating frivolous claims.

Whilst raising awareness of bullying in the workplace is helping employers to become more conscious of their duty of care and more up-to-date with how inappropriate behaviour should be dealt with, it seems there is still some confusion and misreporting among workers.

Last year, the Australian also reported a large increase in the number of bullying incidents reported in the public sector, citing a possible misunderstanding of what constitutes bullying. The surge in claims seemed to be otherwise unexplained and was reported, by Comcare, to be costing the government $46m per year.

The federal government has recently announced plans for changes to the Fair Work Commission and the way bullying complaints are handled which include a national definition of workplace bullying but fears remain that frivolous claims will still be a big problem.

Quoted in the Age, Simon Brown-Greaves, organisational psychologist from FBG Group, said his organisation ”was seeing a dramatic increase in people and organisations seeking advice and support around the bullying issue”. ”As someone who has been around a while, it feels like the new compensation ticket replacing stress and RSI,” Brown-Greaves said. ”There are many people who are experiencing difficulties in the workplace that cause genuine distress. But equally, many see bullying as a way to manage their challenging circumstances.”

With this in mind, it’s important for employers to know their responsibilities but also to have a strategy for ensuring good communication channels are established and kept open with staff. Workers need to be informed, to understand how they are expected to behave and to know what to expect from others; especially in terms of performance management. Organisations must be mindful of keeping their internal complaints handling procedures and policies related to bullying current and clearly available for staff to promote the use of the internal process.

As iHR Australia’s Director of Workplace Relations, Mr John Boardman commented on the Fair Work changes: “Great care will need to be taken to ensure this does not just become another opportunity to take grievances external to the organisation, without first attempting to utilise the internal processes for handling complaints”.

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