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27 Nov 2012

Workplace bullying should be treated as work health and safety issue: new report

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment has tabled its report into workplace bullying, "Workplace bullying: we just want it to stop". The Committee made a total of 23 recommendations, grouped into six categories:

  • The definition of workplace bullying and assessing when it is occurring;
  • Legislative and regulatory changes;
  • Regulatory implementation;
  • Workplace cultures;
  • Tools for prevention and resolution; and
  • Enforcement and remedies.

A changed definition of workplace bullying

A telling feature of the report's focus is the recommended new definition of workplace bullying – "repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety".

This shifts the focus of workplace bullying from being an HR issue and places it squarely in the work health and safety category. Businesses and undertakings must then apply standard work health and safety risk management principles (just as they do to other hazards in the workplace) in managing workplace bullying, as well as being able to manage complaints of bullying with the robust tools that health and safety provides.

Recommended tools for dealing with workplace bullying

Many recommendations deal with tools for employers and employees to recognise and manage bullying, tools for training, developing workplace cultures and preventing and resolving complaints.

One of the more controversial recommendations (and the subject of a dissenting report by Coalition MPs) is a recommendation that the provisions of the draft code of practice on Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying not only be finalised as soon as possible but that the code provisions be implemented as regulations in the model Work Health and Safety Regulations. Of course, any regulatory implementation will take some time given:

  • the growing number of voices saying that businesses are already drowning under regulatory/compliance overkill; and
  • that it will take each of the States to implement the regulatory reform to their regulations (with those States with Coalition governments likely to back the dissenting report by Coalition MPs).

Other recommendations on workplace bullying

Other important recommendations include:

While these proposals may take some time to result in legislative changes, it is clear that bullying and harassment continue to be complex issues that are no longer seen as a just a behavioural/HR problem. They cannot be resolved in isolation. Business must ensure that they have a clear and definitive approach to managing workplace bullying, centring their efforts and processes within their work health and safety management systems as well as their HR function. Bullying is a clear and present workplace hazard that must be managed as such.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.