If you believe you’re a victim of workplace bullying, you’re not alone. You may be wondering when to seek help, and how, and may already be looking for workplace bullying lawyers to support you. The University of South Australia reported last year that 10% of Australian workers report being a victim of workplace bullying, though the true number may be higher.
Workplace bullying can be difficult to combat when it comes to legal language and protections, as bullying can often come down to subjective interpretation. However, you don’t need to suffer in silence.
What is workplace bullying?
To get help, it’s important to first understand the legal definition of workplace bullying.
The Fair Work Commission defines workplace bullying as ‘repeated and unreasonable behavior aimed at an individual worker or group of workers, causing a risk to health and safety’.
Repeated clearly means that there must be more than one incident of the behavior, and unreasonable, legally, refers to whether a reasonable person would consider the behaviour unreasonable (this can be open to interpretation).
Health and safety covers many aspects of an employee’s environment including both physical and mental health.
Bullying includes psychological, verbal, social, and physical abuse, can come from coworkers, employers, or managers, directed at any kind of employee. Examples include:
Exclusion (social or in a working context)
Being assigned impossible or unreasonable jobs
All workplaces have the responsibility to provide an environment free of bullying, so liability falls on your employer, not you, to prevent and manage workplace bullying.
Where’s the line?
By understanding the legal definition of workplace bullying, an employee can know when their rights are being breached and begin the process of seeking help.
Knowing when to seek help will depend on your work environment and circumstances, but generally, when you feel the unwelcome behavior meets the above definition of repeated and unreasonable, with a risk to health and safety, that is when you can begin the process.
Closely consider each aspect of the definition, and be aware of what is not bullying:
Reasonable criticism of job performance
Monitoring work quality
Transfers, demotions, and pay changes within reasonable limits
Discrimination: in employment law discrimination is different from workplace bullying. If an employee falls under a protected characteristic such as race, gender, religion or sexuality and the unreasonable behavior causes adverse action based on those characteristics, that becomes discrimination. If you are experiencing workplace discrimination you can seek different protections and support.
Keep in mind that even if the behavior does not classify as bullying, you can seek support within your workplace to manage unwelcome or upsetting behaviour.
How to get help
In the workplace:
Learn what structures are in place to support you at your place of work. There may be more than one avenue, including Human Resources, your manager, a trusted coworker, a union, or a health and safety officer
Outside the workplace:
The Fair Work Commission is the body responsible for regulating and legislating about workplace bullying. You can complete an eligibility quiz to see if your circumstances are covered by the legislation, and lodge applications through them.
Seek legal advice. This is the best way to receive personalized, professional advice and support for your situation. It can be a big weight off your shoulders to have someone protecting your rights and safety at work.
A key way to strengthen your case when you seek out help is to document every incidence of unwelcome behavior including names, dates, witnesses and locations. Concrete evidence will stand in your favor.
Also document outcomes of the unwelcome behavior, as the legislation states that workplace bullying necessarily causes a risk to health and safety.
Be aware of your physical and mental health. If you notice symptoms of depression, anxiety, loss of productivity, lack of self-esteem, and changes in your relationships, document these and seek help.
Be informed about your rights, the help you can seek out, and the support available to you.
At all times employees have the right to a safe workplace where they are respected by their coworkers and employers. If you feel you are a victim of workplace bullying, be aware of the legal definitions so you know when to seek help, and how.
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