New Workplace Bullying Laws and How They Affect NFPs
8 October 2013 at 8:45 am
The Federal Government is cracking down on workplace bullying and introducing an all-encompassing law that makes bullying conduct unlawful. Business adviser Ruth Knight offers her tips on how to prepare a Not for Profit organisation for the change.
What can cost an organisation’s time, money, staff turnover, absenteeism, poor working relationships, and low morale? Workplace bullying.
Any organisation is at risk and there is never a better time to start putting in place the policies and systems to protect you and your employees from the destructive effects of bullying and harassment.
In Australia, the estimated cost of bullying is staggering. An inquiry into workplace bullying by an education and employment parliamentary committee found bullying costs the Australian economy up to $36 billion every year and that a workplace bullying case costs employers an average of $17,000 to $24,000 per claim.
The costs involve victims taking an average of seven additional days of sick leave a year, reduced efficiency, increased absenteeism, poor morale, increased workers’ compensation claims and civil action.
The good news is that these are costs that you can avoid or minimise if you take bullying seriously and deal with it appropriately.
Unfortunately bullying could be happening in any organisation right now, whether you know it or not. The Productivity Commission found that 2.5 million Australians experienced some aspect of bullying during their working lives, and a survey of 800 employees by Drake International found that half of the respondents had witnessed bullying and 25 per cent had been bullied.
It is a horribly common problem for all organisations, big and small, profit or Not for Profit, and that is why it is not only a moral duty to create a safe workplace, but a legal responsibility as well.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, employers are obliged to take all reasonably practicable steps to manage health and safety risks in their workplaces. Bullying is one such health and safety risk.
Failure to do so could constitute a breach of the Act and could have serious repercussions, not just for those bullying or being bullied, but for your organisation as a whole.
But the government is now taking the fight against workplace bullying one step further, and from 1 January 2014 new workplace bullying laws will form part of the Fair Work Act 2009.
For the first time, there will be an all-encompassing law that makes bullying conduct unlawful with a right to redress workplace bullying through the Fair Work Commission.
These new laws will cover contractors, subcontractors, outworkers, apprentices, trainees and students gaining work experience as well as volunteers.
Under the new laws, employees can formally require the Fair Work Commission to order employers to take action against bullying colleagues and managers.
With the introduction of these new laws, it is essential that an organisation has an effective workplace bullying policy which includes:
- a definition of workplace bullying, including a statement that workplace bullying is unlawful;
- a complaints process; and
- information about the consequences for a worker who has engaged in workplace bullying.
Organisations need to ensure that its performance management and investigation processes are fair and reasonable and that it has appropriate documentation that details the action taken when an employee makes a grievance or complaint about bullying behaviour.
Organisations may also need to prove that it has given employees training or guidance in relation to its policy, so everyone is aware of what they need to do if they think they are being bullied.
Be aware that if a claim by an employee is investigated by the Fair Work Commission and it is found that bullying has occurred, an organisation will be expected to comply with any orders to prevent the worker from being bullied.
If an organisation does not comply with the Fair Work Commission's order, it is looking at a maximum penalty of $51,000. Individuals involved in breaching the orders such as managers and directors could also be penalised.
So what do organisations need to start doing to protecting their employees, themselves and and the organisation?
- Most importantly, create a culture where employees understand the behaviour standard expected of them, role model respect, and take a strong stance against negative and bullying behaviours.
- Make sure that the organisation has the relevant policies and procedures to help employees know what bullying and harassment is, how to report it, and what will happen if someone is found to be engaging in bullying and harassment.
- Make sure that all managers have ongoing training about how to look out for and address bullying behaviours that they see or are alerted to. Managers should be trained in how to provide supervision and performance management, and an organisation should have an effective performance appraisal process in place.
- Consider signing up for an Employee Assistance Program for your staff to access, or at least identify an appropriate counsellor who could be available to staff if they need it.
It can take time to influence the culture of an organisation, but building a strong, supportive culture fosters higher employee loyalty, individual and team success.
Begin by creating an atmosphere where people have a clear vision and understanding of how dignity and respect should be demonstrated at work – this will reap massive rewards for an organisations and its employees.
About the author: Ruth Knight is a Queensland-based trainer, consultant, business advisor, and founder and director of The Pillars of Best Practice – an online coaching program for Not for Profit organisations and leaders. She has a Masters of Business from QUT, she is an Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, and a Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute.