We should all be aware of the WorkSafe ads that are currently being displayed all over the country on TV, radio, and on billboards. These graphic, emotional ads have all made us question our safety at work. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how seriously the Australian government taking the safety of workers. This year, they have implemented heavier laws against workplace bullying.
These changes have caused an immediate and alarming increase in the number of workplace bullying claims, as well as the potential payouts for which business owners are liable.
Here is what you need to know about the changes, the impact they are having and how, as a business owner or HR rep, you can ensure you’re business stays a step ahead.
What has changed?
Each year, workplace bullying costs our economy up to $36 billion, with payouts ranging from $17,000 to $24,000 for each claim. Throughout 2014, our federal government will be introducing new laws to combat workplace bullying, where employers will be required to fork out fines of up to $51,000 if they be unable to stop the bullying of a employee. It’s a shift away from the Fair Work Act’s previous leniency. Now, the workplace bullying law intends to safeguard every single victim.
Officials will contact you directly if they believe the Act’s been breached, and an official investigation into the supposed bullying will ensue. The Fair Work Commission will also intervene within 14 days of the application being lodged, to ensure that the bullying is dealt with.
How is it affecting Businesses?
Studies show that 25% of people are bullied in Australian workplaces, and that 2.5 million living Australians will be bullied in their working life.
Not only are these figures alarming, but the financial implications tied to them are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
Workplace bullying can range from verbal abuse, to setting tasks that are unreasonable for a person’s skill level or time. It’s detrimental to both the victims and to the overall atmosphere of the workplace; and it has been linked to physical and mental health issues, such as muscular tension and anxiety.
If the amount of people who inquire into workplace bullying are an indication of how many face or witness it, all business owners should be alarmed. As is, the Fair Work Commission received 28,049 unique hits for information about workplace bullying in January 2014 alone.
How can you protect your business against claims?
In order to prevent workplace bullying, it’s vital that you take every possible step to encourage a safe work environment. As an employer, it is in your best interest to look after your employees in an informed fashion that will help you avoid huge welfare payouts.
Considering how broad the definition is for workplace bullying, you can’t be certain of how many of your workers will qualify for the compensation payouts you’ll have to make.
Being a manager means you’re at the forefront of all matters related to employee relationships; and will most likely be the company’s point-of-call on best to consider these new legal ramifications. Your prominence in this after all, along with your understood proximity to workers themselves, gives you the unique opportunity to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
We’ve gathered some helpful suggestions below on how to enforce workplace policies and procedures in regards to bullying.
1. Set a standard for behaviour
Draw up policies on how employees should behave towards one another, all of which may be regulated. These can consist of a standard of conduct, their commitment to a safe working environment, alongside information on how to report breaches of these rules, and the consequences of not complying. This should include written documentation, so that employees are aware of exactly what is expected of them.
2. Encourage reporting
It’s difficult for those who are bullied to come forward with a complaint. As the manager, you need to show them that it is safe for them to do so. It is also important to encourage those we’ve witnessed the bullying to take action and protect victims. Make sure that your workers are aware of how they can come forward, and that you make it comfortable and easy for them to do so.
3. Ensure that your information is widely understood
It can be helpful to create a procedure that workers follow when confronted with workplace bullying. As such, it is especially important to include policies and procedures in the induction of new employees. Furthermore, it should constantly be advocated, rather than mocked, in the workplace.
4. Take Action Immediately, and Investigate
Admittedly it can be difficult to recognise bullying. If you receive any reports of it, you should conduct an investigation before you take any action. As you want to be able to intervene as early as possible, you need to investigate claims in an objective and timely manner. Be sure to keep any and all sensitive information confidential.
5. Communicate and Review
After you’ve conducted your investigation, you should take any disciplinary action that is necessary. At this point in time, you’ll need to review your workplace policies and procedures to reinforce your prevention of workplace bullying. You can also run more awareness and training sessions to further instil the anti-bullying values in your workplace and its policies.
It all boils down to this: the law’s been ramped up dramatically, and obligations to your workers have never been more critical than now. So it’s crucial then, that you are knowledgeable and pro-active in your efforts to ensure the physical and mental safety of your workers.
About the Author:
Michael Meere, at the College for Adult Learning, runs seminars on human resource management in Victoria, Australia. He works with a range of HR reps, managers and business owners. If you are interested in speaking with Michael about any of the above, or wish to inquire about seminars at the College for Adult Learning facilities, or at your workplace, call 1300 907 870 or email Michael at [email protected]