Bullying & Harassment within the Workplace
We get many calls from employees complaining that they are being bullied or harassed within the workplace. This is not nice for anyone to endure. In general, the world is not a nice place. You can't stop this from occurring but you can take steps to reduce its impact, mitigate its effects, and remove it from the work place. Quite often, the bully is a manager or superior in the workplace who is using this type of behaviour to assert their dominance. It is usually due to their own insecurities. This can be harder to fix although not impossible.
However, is the situation bullying and or harassment? It is not uncommon for someone not liking what their manager is doing / telling them to state that they feel that they are being bullied. There are four factors that are generally identified in bullying situations. They are: -
- The Action is deliberate, that is the bully is intending to harm the victim.
- The bully uses the power that they have in the employment relationship over the victim.
- The actions are repeated over time and are not that of a one off situation.
- The behaviour of the bully can cause harm on the victim.
Many actions can appear to be that of a bullying nature but in reality the general rule of thumb is that it is not bullying if: -
- The action is a one off incident.
- It is more aligned with a difference of opinion.
- A person does not like you or it is an isolated act of rejection at work.
- It is a one off act of meanness or spite.
- The use of sexist or racist terms that are not intended to cause harm.
The most common statement made to us regarding this topic is along the lines of:
I want to leave now and raise a personal grievance for constructive dismissal. Can I do this?
Similar to you wanting to go to your local lotto shop to purchase the winning ticket, there is nothing stopping you from doing it. However, your chances of success are generally pretty remote. Most people don't like hearing this news, but it is the reality of the situation, unless you have had advice prior.
So, what can I do if I am feeling bullied or harassed?
The first decision to make is whether you want to fix the problem, or you want to take steps to remove yourself from it. If you are in a large organisation and the perpetrator is someone on the same or similar level to you, then there is a good chance that the problem can be fixed. However, if you are working for a smaller organisation and the perpetrator is the business owner or a member of their family, then maybe the best course of action is to look for alternative employment and resign, once this has been secured. They may not be right, but they are the boss after all.
There are various steps you can take to attempt to fix the problem. The process below is designed so that, at the end of it, if the problem is not resolved, you could have good grounds for a personal grievance claim against your employer for bullying and/or harassment. It is worth pointing out at this stage that you cannot take a legal action (personal grievance) against another employee of your employer. You can only take legal action against your employer.
Step 1. Line in the sand
If the incident of bullying or harassment is any older than two weeks then, generally, it's too late to do anything effective about it. If it really deserved action then you would have said something at the time, not two weeks (or longer) down the track.
Step 2. Documentation
Immediately after the incident that you consider was bullying or harassment, you need to document exactly what has happened, including:
- who else was around that saw or heard this
- what was said or done
- how it made you feel
Having documented the incident, you then need to write this into a communication to your manager and or HR representative. This communication also needs to contain a few other key ingredients. If these ingredients are not all present, then you reduce your chances of being successful with a personal grievance should it go as far as that. These ingredients are:
- that you consider these actions of [NAME] to be bullying or harassment
- you do not like it and you wish for it to stop as it is making you feel unsafe
- it is not fair or reasonable for you to have to put up with such actions within the workplace
- if it does not stop, then you may have to be forced to go and find alternate employment
A typical email to your manager or HR representative could look like:
Yesterday, 23 August 2014, I was at the photocopier in the level two open plan office making copies of the Nutrition Report, which I am due to present at the end of the month, when Monique came up to me. She said that I was wasting my time copying my report because she had read the draft and it was a pathetic report full of errors that looked like a 10 year old had written it.
I was devastated to hear these words as I have put a great deal of time into my report and I don't think her comments were fair. I consider this to be bullying behaviour, especially as, when she said it, both Steve and Kirsten were at their desks and would have heard what she said to me.
Her comments made me feel physically sick and I found it hard to concentrate on my work for the rest of the day. I do not like this sort of behaviour and wish for it not to happen again as it makes me feel unsafe and vulnerable within the workplace. I don't think that it is either fair or reasonable, that I should have to put up with the likes of this. I really enjoy my job but, if this sort of behaviour continues, then I may be forced to seek alternative employment elsewhere.
Please can you come back to me with what actions you are going to take to stop a reoccurrence of such an incident.
Step 3. Follow up
Make sure you keep a copy of this communication at home and, if you don't hear back from your employer, then send another email 10 days later asking what is happening about it. Again, keep copies of all communications regarding this at home.
Step 4. Repeat the above
Every time an incident happens, you need to repeat the above. Once you get a total of about 6 incidents over a period of say, at least 6 weeks, and nothing has been done about it, then you may have a valid constructive dismissal claim. You will need your written copies of all the incidents as your verbal recollection as evidence will, most probably, not stand up in court.
Step 5. Taking legal action
Before starting any legal action or resigning, it is best to get professional advice to make sure you have a valid case before you embark on a path of no return.