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Friday, 16 September 2011

A solution for frivolous workplace bullying claims

I read with interest Rachel Wells, Sydney Morning Herald story on 24 July entitled, “Most workplace bullying claims fall short”. Since the introduction of Brodie’s Law in Victoria on May 31, 2011 which provides for up to 10 years prison for bullying offences, claims for workplace bullying have more than doubled in the past year in Victoria. Many claims could be considered frivolous due to employee’s poor understanding of what actually constitutes bullying. Other States and Territories are investigating the implementation of workplace bullying legislation, but regardless of specific legislation, employers may be liable for workplace bullying under other pieces of legislation – namely Occupational Health & Safety, discrimination, worker’s compensation and at common law. Bullying can involve patrons, clients, customers, contractors or staff. It’s a fact of life, bullying is not limited to the school yard and employers cannot ignore bullying behavior. It is debilitating to the victim and can lead to serious health and psychological issues – even suicide. Bullying can be direct and obvious or indirect, even subtle or masked with humour. Bullying or harassment, although not a new phenomena is gaining momentum in civil litigation at a rapid rate, with no indications of slowing in the near future. In a recent Clayton Utz’s, Insights publication, their advice to employers is to put policies and training in place. “A workplace policy explicitly prohibiting bullying is simply insufficient due to the nature of bullying and the vagueness associated with ‘what it is’ and ‘what it isn’t’. The most proactive and positive way to provide your business with its own certainty is by developing a bullying policy and through training.” For employers, the bullying issue is not just about money and minimizing the risk of civil litigation, it is corrosive to an organisation’s culture as it erodes peoples’ self-esteem, confidence and personality. It's about individuals and how their lives can be destroyed by thoughtless and damaging attacks by the people they work with. Blayne Webb, Director, Barringtons
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