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Workers Compensation

Bullying and harassment in the workplace

By LHD Lawyers

Every employer in Australia has a legal responsibility to create a workplace that’s as safe as reasonably possible – which includes protecting their workers from inappropriate, unwelcome, harmful and even violent treatment from those they work with. They also need to invest in developing and implementing workplace procedures that can address inappropriate treatment and respond to complaints in effective, constructive ways.

An employer that does not create a safe workplace by allowing behaviours such as bullying and harassment to continue is not only not fulfilling their obligation, they are acting illegally by compromising the safety of their workforce.

If a colleague you work with has been bullying, harassing or intimidating you, rest assured there are things you can do and people who can help correct this unacceptable situation. You may also be entitled to make a claim for workers’ compensation for any psychological and physical injury, lost earnings and medical expenses you experience due to their behaviours.

What is classified as bullying and harassment at work?

Workplace bullying relates to verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by another person or a group of people at work that occurs repeatedly over time.

These actions are unlawful because they create a risk to a worker’s health and safety, with the real potential to cause both physical and psychological injury.

Bullying can apply to everyone operating at a workplace, from permanent and part-time employees through to contractors, consultants, casuals, apprentices, volunteers, work experience students and interns.

The range of harmful impacts of bullying is very broad and serious. If you are being bullied and don’t feel as though you have faith in your employer or those you work with to help, you might find yourself less active, less confident and less successful in your work, or scared, stressed, anxious or depressed to the point you seek to actively stay away from work. Your life outside of work can be seriously affected as well, and you can endure physical symptoms such as headaches, backaches and sleep issues.

It’s worth pointing out that a single instance of unreasonable behaviour does not constitute workplace bullying.

Workplace harassment relates to unlawful, unwanted behaviour that’s likely to offend, humiliate, intimidate or otherwise treat someone less favourably than other people because of their gender, sexual preference, race, culture, religion, disability, age or marital status.

Harassment isn’t just confined to a place of work; it can also apply to incidents at workplace events such as social gatherings, conferences, training days, etc. Whether physical, verbal or psychological, its impact can leave victims feeling offended, humiliated, intimidated, disempowered and ostracised. Harassment can be subtle and implied rather than openly expressed, and unlike bullying, a one-off incident can be considered harassment.

Examples of workplace bullying and harassment

These can range from obvious verbal or physical assaults to subtle psychological abuse and can happen in-person, over the phone, via email and over social media. Examples can include:

  • Hurtful remarks, teasing or attacks, yelling, practical jokes or offensive language
  • Spreading rumours, gossip or otherwise divisive stories
  • Telling insulting jokes or making disparaging comments against particular segments of the community that the victim belongs to (eg. ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, etc.)
  • Making derogatory comments or taunts about a person’s disability and suitability for work
  • Asking intrusive questions about someone’s personal life, including their sex life.
  • Unwelcome touching and sexually explicit comments and requests
  • Threats, aggression and intimidation, including with equipment or anything that could be used to cause harm
  • Pushing, shoving, tripping or grabbing
  • “Hazing” initiation rituals
  • Excluding or isolating employees from workplace activities and events
  • Assigning meaningless tasks unrelated to the job
  • Assigning too much work or not allowing sufficient time, then criticising the employee’s work in relation to this
  • Deliberately changing work rosters to inconvenience certain employees
  • Undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information vital for effective work performance
  • Repeated unconstructive criticism of work output
  • Suppression of ideas and contributions

What steps can you take if you’re being bullied or harassed in the workplace?

If you’re a victim of bullying or harassing behaviour, there are actions you can take to try to improve your situation:

  • Keep a diarised record of every incident – where, when, who, and the details of what was said and done, and keep records of the actions you took to deal with the situation and individuals involved.
  • Let the person or people involved know that their behaviours need to stop and why. It is reasonably possible they did not realise the effect they were having on you, so they should have the opportunity to address that. If you don’t feel confident, consider having a manager, HR representative, or even a union representative join you to be part of the conversation, both for peace of mind and so it is formalised.
  • Gain guidance from the internal complaints procedures and workplace policies where you work, and research those applicable from both state and national authorities.
  • Get advice internally, such as from human resources or a supervisor you trust, to talk through the entire situation and get a fuller perspective and advice.
  • Make a formal complaint or report to your supervisor or manager to resolve the dispute in line with your workplace’s policies and procedures.
  • If the situation has not improved and there seems to be no other options internally, you can lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Commission, which has the legal power to enforce its decisions and stop the bullying or harassment.

How to prove bullying and harassment at work

As mentioned above, document every incident. This is very important because, rather than judging individual events, it may show an overall pattern of bullying or harassment. Include as many specific details as possible – you may not remember them later.

1. Ask the person to stop

Speaking up makes it clear you do not consent to the harassment or attention. Unfortunately, simply ignoring inappropriate behaviours won’t usually make the problem go away and may not communicate the message you want to express. As long as you say nothing, they can argue that they thought you enjoyed the attention.

2. Talk to witnesses

There are probably co-workers who have seen the behaviour. Often, people who use bullying tactics at work have a pattern of treating other people the same way.

3. Make copies or take photos of evidence

In case you ever lose access to your workplace, store your physical records at home. This is especially important if the person who is bullying or harassing you is a supervisor or has worked for the company longer than you and has a generally good reputation.

4. Show the effects of the bullying to others

Talk to your workmates – the person may be targeting others, or their treatment of you may make others feel uncomfortable or stressed. Talk to your friends and family too, as they may have noticed a change in you as a result of the stressful situation you’re dealing with at work. Get some perspective from them on the ways that you’ve changed.

5. Visit a psychologist or other health provider

Do so if you’re in emotional distress. In the event you end up filing a complaint with a government agency or filing a lawsuit, the fact you needed mental health treatment will help show the serious impact on your wellbeing.

Does workers’ compensation cover bullying and harassment?

Bullying and harassment in the workplace can cause psychological injury by damaging both your mental and physical health and can cause long-term repercussions like psychological trauma and ongoing stress and anxiety.

Therefore, in line with state and federal workplace laws, if you’ve been the victim of bullying or harassment at work and/or it’s judged that your employer breached their duty of care in ensuring your safety, you may be able to make a workers’ compensation claim for the injuries you sustained.

As a general principle, monetary values for compensation are calculated by looking at how much your life path and trajectory have been affected by your injuries, and the difference between your life before and after your injuries. If successful, you may receive compensation for any loss of earnings, medical expenses, and damages for pain and suffering.

Speaking with one of LHD’s workers compensation lawyers will help you understand the situation, and our lawyers can then advise you more accurately on what workers’ compensation might cover and estimate an amount you might receive.

Make a bullying and harassment claim today

LHD Lawyers help everyday Australians receive the compensation and support they are entitled to for bullying and harassment claims. We are so sure of our abilities to win your case, we stand firmly by our No Win No Fee Policy: if we don’t win, you don’t pay. Call 1800 455 725 for a no-obligation consultation about your case.

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