Everyone has the right to be able to go to work without being victimised for it. Whether consciously or unconsciously inflicted, workplace bullying is an unacceptable practice against which there are legal protections. In this article we explore the topic of workplace bullying and what to do in instances where you are concerned you have either been the victim or perpetrator of workplace bullying.
Workplace bullying is the repeated and unreasonable action of a worker or a group of workers towards another worker that creates a risk to the health and safety to that worker.
There are a couple of key parts to this to unpack – let’s start with it being repeated. If you are harassed once at your workplace, it isn’t workplace bullying. There has to be repeated instances of the unreasonable behaviour to qualify it as a bullying.
The actions of any workplace bullying must be unreasonable as well as being sustained. Unreasonable behaviour could involve aggression or threats of violence, inappropriate humour and teasing, ridiculous work demands or even being excluded from work related events. Bullying, however, is NOT being fired or pulled up on disciplinary action, or any sort of reasonable direction around how work is to be completed. If you feel like you have been treated unfairly in your dismissal or fired on unacceptable grounds, read our article on unfair dismissal for more detailed advice.
Workplace bullying isn’t the same as discrimination in the workplace
It is important to note that workplace bullying is distinct from discrimination. Discrimination means you have been the victim of adverse action in the form of demotion or firing on the basis of race, sex or religion. Bullying is repeated actions with a risk to safety and doesn’t have to be discrimination.
If you’re being bullied, what do you do?
It can be the case that if you have suffered injury or loss from workplace bullying that you are entitled to workers’ compensation, but there are some processes that have to be observed before getting to this stage.
Firstly, check the guidelines or processes your organisation has to support instances of workplace bullying, as most workplaces will have an internal mechanism in place to begin dealing with it. This may be as simple as letting someone know that their actions are unacceptable; sometimes, people don’t realise the harmful extent of their behaviour. You should also speak to someone independent of the situation with the expertise to know if the behaviour is unreasonable and what steps can be taken. That person could be a lawyer or an HR representative in your organisation.
Report it, preferably in writing. Management or HR in your organisation needs to know there is an issue. Firstly, because they can take steps to address it, but secondly because if you apply for workers’ compensation or proceed with legal action, an employer may claim ignorance of the grievance if it has not been reported.