Workplace Bullying and Harassment - What Every Employer Needs to Know

November 01, 2013

A good starting point is to ensure the employer’s senior and executive management have a good understanding of what constitutes unacceptable workplace behaviour. They need to know that such behaviour includes:

Should a workplace inspector call, they will invariably request from the employer three things:

  1. What are your policies and procedures?
  2. Show us evidence of one or more complaints that you have addressed
  3. Demonstrate the complaint was addressed in accordance with the policies and procedures.

If an employer can demonstrate that the policies and procedures comply with legal requirements, that they are in accordance with best practice and are sufficiently comprehensive in capturing all aspects of workplace behaviour, the employer will more likely satisfy the inspector they are compliant and therefore reduce the risk of prosecution. The employer will have adequately and reasonably fulfilled their OHS obligations to employees and staff.

That is the most effective protection against common law actions and other litigation and prosecution. As a general rule, although it is not necessary to be stated in a formal policy, issues or complaints should be triaged by the relevant personnel, (WorkCover co-ordinator, HR, OHS representative, management etc) to ensure all risks are adequately assessed at the outset and matters not allowed to escalate (workers’ compensation stress claims often arise from interpersonal conflicts which are preventable through early intervention).

Workplace behaviour investigations by necessity require a reasonable understanding and “working knowledge” of the management of inappropriate behaviour by employers.

Very few employers are sufficiently appraised of their obligations and the implications of any failure to comply. For such reasons the investigations provide insights into an employer’s workplace behaviour management system. They offer real opportunities to appraise and inform the employer of any significant shortfalls in such systems.