All employees have a legal right to a safe, healthy workplace - one that's free from bullying and harassment. And as an employer, responsibility for employee safety sits with you. That means taking steps to manage any risks to employee mental health, including dealing with bullying behaviour, quickly and effectively.
Beyond Blue research (PDF) highlights a strong relationship between negative workplace culture and bullying. One of the best things you can do to stamp out bullying is to make respect a non-negotiable feature of your workplace.
Developing a policy that works for you
Being clear about what's expected of everyone - and what unacceptable behaviour looks like - is a great first step. Make sure all employees get a say about what should go into your workplace's code of conduct or anti-bullying policy, including how to deal with unacceptable behaviour.
Your policy should include:
- how to report bullying
- the process that you will follow to ensure transparency, confidentiality, available support and fairness
- what will happen once the claim has been investigated
Following up with training and information on the policy means everyone's on the same page.
Check out Safe Work Australia's workplace bullying policy to give you some ideas, or use Comcare's bullying policy checklist to help identify any areas for improvement to your current bullying policy.
Monitor and review
Make sure you review your bullying policy regularly and get everyone involved in the process. This will help you refine your procedures and ensure they continue to meet your needs.
Further reading and resources
Responding to an accusation of bullying
Acting promptly on issues when they're raised can stop the situation happening again and show employees that workplace bullying is treated seriously by the organisation.
Start with the following questions:
- Is the behaviour bullying or not?
- Do measures need to be taken to minimise the risk of ongoing harm?
- Do I have clear understanding of the issues?
- Do I need additional information or assistance?
- Can the matter be safely resolved between the parties at a team level?
- Should the matter be formally investigated?
What happens if the accusation is proven?
If an allegation of workplace bullying is proven, you’ll need to take action in line with your agreed policies and procedures. What you do will depend on how serious the situation is and can be a combination of the individual and organisational strategies listed below.
At an individual level:
- Request an apology and a commitment that the behaviour will not be repeated, and monitor the situation over time.
- Provide coaching or training e.g. communication skills, leadership, interpersonal skills, etc.
- Offer counselling support.
- Consider transferring an employee or employees to another work area.
- Provide a verbal or written warning.
- Demote or dismiss the perpetrator or take other actions subject to workplace relations laws.
At an organisational level:
- Address organisational issues that may have contributed to the behaviour.
- Review your organisation's workplace bullying policy.
- Provide information to employees to raise awareness of workplace bullying.
What happens if the accusation is not proven?
If an investigation finds a report of bullying isn’t proven, you’ll still need to resolve the issue. There’s likely to be tension between the staff members involved, and emotions can be running high. You might need to think about mediation, counselling or changing work arrangements, or a combination of these approaches. If the report has been made maliciously, you may need to take further action.
Anything you do should be consistent with your policies on misconduct and disciplinary action.
For more information, see Chapter 3 of Safe Work Australia's Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying.