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How to Manage Workplace Bullying

If an employee has suffered an injury because of workplace bullying (including a psychological injury) they may make an application for workers’ compensation.  There are various statutory requirements that must be met in order for a claim to be accepted by WorkCover Queensland (or a self-insurer).

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that gives rise to a risk to health and safety.

Bullying is not confined to face to face bullying.  It can include inappropriate emails, text messages or comments made on social media.

Cyberbullying of children and teens has been the subject of research and publications for some time.  However less attention has been focussed on cyberbullying in the workplace.  A recent study conducted by the Australian Manufacturing and Workers’ Union (AMWU) showed that more than 10% of workers had been a victim of cyberbullying.  All of the victims of cyberbullying also experienced some form of face-to-face bullying.

A study conducted by security company AVG Technologies revealed that almost 10% of workers had experienced a manager or supervisor using information found on social media against them or against a colleague.

Comments made on social media may amount to cyberbullying, even if it occurs outside work time.  Recent decisions of the Fair Work Commission suggest that in the case of social media, an employee may never be “off duty”.  Posts on Facebook and other social media sites made outside work hours may amount to workplace cyberbullying, and employees may be sanctioned for expressing opinions about their workplace, their work colleagues or other work-related issues, even if the opinion was made “privately” on a social media site.

What actually constitutes bullying if often misunderstood.  Examples of workplace bullying include:-

• abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
• unjustified criticism or complaints
• deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
• withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
• setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
• setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level
• denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources to the detriment of the worker
• spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
• changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to deliberately inconvenience a particular worker or workers.

Bullying is not behaviour that involves discrimination and sexual harassment or reasonable action taken by managers and supervisors to allocate work and give fair and reasonable feedback on a worker’s performance.  Differences of opinion and disagreements are generally not bullying, however conflict that is not managed may escalate to the point of meeting the definition of workplace bullying.

Dealing with workplace bullying is often difficult.  Workplace policies and procedures may offer a starting point.  It is important that the bullying be reported to a supervisor or manager, or by contacting the Fair Work Commission.

If you have suffered a psychological injury as a result of bullying at work, you may be entitled to make a workers’ compensation claim.  Employers owe workers a duty of care to provide a safe system of work.  Where an employer is aware of the bullying and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent it, the worker may be entitled to make a common law claim for compensation for their injuries.  GC Law can offer expert advice in relation to your workers’ compensation entitlements.

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