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Workplace bullying. Just say No?

In schools, children are taught to "just say no" to bullies. Walk away and ignore them because if a bully doesn't get attention, they'll stop.

This attitude sets a dangerous precedent for the workplace, where the bullying may involve a power imbalance and ignoring it may only make it seem acceptable, or allow it to escalate to the point where stress leave on this ground is prevalent.  It's alright to say "sticks and stones", but when it's making your job harder, it's just as okay to find a way to speak up.

Medium to large sized workplaces now have a bullying and harassment policy, which is usually available in procedure manuals or the workplace intranet.  It will usually give a brief definition of bullying and an outline of the internal complaint process.  It is a good first place to look for your options, even if you end up deciding to go elsewhere.  Some questions you might ask yourself when looking at the policy are:

  1. Who will I be making my complaint to?
  2. What will happen once I've made my complaint?
  3. What can I do if I am not happy with the outcome?

A good policy will make these things clear.  For example, a good policy will have a designated complaints officer and have clearly explained processes, including how to appeal an initial decision.  There may also be counselling services available, or someone you can talk to without lodging a formal complaint.

If you choose to go through the complaints process and the bullying doesn't stop, you might be able to lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC).  The EOC requires that you be victimised, or treated differently, to be able to complain. For example, you could be being excluded from social activities, or be "sent to Coventry" (where people do not speak to you or exclude you from general conversations) or being further harassed.

Another option is a General Protections claim with Fair Work Australia.  If you suffer in your job, for example, by being excluded from training, or subjected to unjustified performance management, you may be able to argue that your employer has taken adverse action against you because you made a complaint.  This extra qualification may be a bit difficult to show in some cases so it's important you seek suitable and professional advice.

Alternately, if you feel the bullying is discriminatory, such as being based on your race or gender, you can make a complaint with the EOC or the Australian Human Rights Commission.  Which forum is right for you depends on your situation as they differ slightly in their jurisdiction and processes. Both will usually begin with a conciliation process in an attempt to find a solution before referring your claim for a hearing.  You don't need to have already complained through work (internal process) to lodge an external complaint on these grounds.

It is important to remember that you are not alone if you are facing a bully at work.  There are other people in your situation, and there are people who can help you deal with it.  If you ask for help, or make a complaint, you've taken the first step to reducing the bully's power over you.

It's not a crystal clear area of law.  It can be confusing and complex. But we urge you not to let bullying and harassment be a part of your work environment for these reasons. If you need to clarify where you might stand in relation to workplace bullying, get in touch with today's blog writer, Senior Associate at Andersons Solicitors, Sorna Nachiappan.

Please note, this Blog is posted in Adelaide, South Australia. It relates to South Australian State legislation and Australian Federal legislation.


Hi Sue, we too thought that this topic is often missed from a legal perspective. We thank you for taking the time to comment on our blog post.
Andersons Solicitors
March 20, 2012 08:53
Sue said...
I've edited to mention you towards the end of this post. I hope it's ok?
Please feel free to delete this comment.
March 20, 2012 08:53
Thank you for the endorsement of our information Sue.
March 20, 2012 08:53
Sue said...
It's good to read about workplace bullying from a legal perspective. It's an important issue and although we have legislation, it's equally important to remind people that it's wrong and guide those who have been targeted by a bully in a positive direction. I'll link to this on G+ and in my own blog. Thankyou.
March 20, 2012 08:53


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