For conduct to be described as bullying three elements are required. These are:
- repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed at a particular individual or group that,
- a reasonable person similarly placed having regard to all the circumstances would,
- expect to feel victimized, humiliated, undermined or threatened.
Unlike criteria identified by Fair Work Australia, the behaviour does not necessarily need to create a risk to health and safety.
A single incident of bullying behaviour does not constitute workplace bullying, however an employer has a general duty to provide employees with a safe workplace, and a single incident of bullying should not be ignored.
If it is established that an employee has behaved in ways that a reasonable person would consider to be offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening they will have breached the State Service Code of Conduct and will risk disciplinary action including termination of employment.
Differences of opinion or personality clashes are not bullying.
Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner is also not bullying. Determining whether management action is reasonable requires an objective assessment of:
- the circumstances that led to and created the need for the management action to be taken,
- the circumstances while the management action was being taken,
- the consequences that flowed from the management action.
It is not fair or reasonable to ask someone to respond to allegations if the allegations are anonymous. An anonymous complaint raises the suspicion that the complaint is made up or, in fact, a bullying tool in itself.
What preventive measures can AEU members take in their workplace? Here are ten tips:
- Your workplace should develop a procedure for reporting and dealing with workplace bullying and all workers should be aware of it.
- Bullying involves fear. Facing it involves courage. Where AEU members witness another member being bullied, they should offer support and assistance to that person. Support may include discussing the incidents with the target or offering to speak to the bully on behalf of the person.
- Wherever possible, tell the bully that their behaviour is bullying and request that they stop.
- Keep records, a diary or comprehensive notes of the bullying incidents, acts and situations, the effect on your health, the dates on which they occurred and the names of any witnesses, and keep any correspondence from the bully. A diary can be used in a court of law if need be.
- Inform management of the bullying behaviour and ask that they act to stop it immediately.
- Seek support, advice and assistance early from sources existing inside the workplace, including your AEU Workplace Rep or your Health and Safety Rep.
- Seek support, advice and assistance outside the workplace from AEU officers who will advise about formal and informal procedures for dealing with the bully.
- If at all possible, do not attend a grievance procedure or other meeting on the bullying incidents without AEU representation.
- Consider counselling assistance from the Employee Assistance Program.
- Where it can be established that the individual’s stress is caused by work, you may consider making a claim under workers compensation legislation.