What to do if it’s happening to you!
Bullying can and should be stopped. Every situation is different and
how you handle bullying will depend on your particular work environment,
the systems available in your workplace and the nature of the bullying.
If you are being bullied, you could take action yourself or follow a
more formal approach. The following personal and informal steps are recommended
as a first
approach in dealing with most bullying cases.
Check whether your employer has a policy and complaint resolution procedure for workplace bullying. It may be available in the organisation’s induction package for all new employees, or it may be included in the in-house newsletters or displayed on notice boards. There may also be grievance procedures in your industrial award or employment agreement. Most complaint procedures have an informal resolution process aimed at resolving issues as quickly as possible in a no blame, conciliatory manner, as well as a more formal investigation process.
If available in your workplace, seek advice from your Contact Officer or Grievance Officer, Health and Safety Representative, Human Resources Officer or Union Official. You should not make allegations about bullying behaviour or harassment to people who are not involved in the handling of complaints in your workplace. The alleged bully is protected by confidentiality provisions in law and may be able to take action if the complaint is not handled properly. You should not have to submit a written complaint when making an informal complaint, although it is highly recommended that you keep a record of what is happening.
Make a detailed record of what happened - place, date, time, persons (both those involved and those present) and what was said or done. Ensure that your records are accurate. This information may be useful later, particularly if more formal steps need to be taken.
APPROACH THE BULLY
If any form of bullying happens to you and you feel safe and comfortable to do so, make it quite clear to the bully as soon as possible that the behaviour is unwanted and unacceptable and that you will not tolerate it. Silence allows the bully to continue intimidating you.
If you don't say something, the harassment may get worse. Body language is also an effective way to communicate, especially when combined with a clear statement. You may decide to discuss how you should approach the bully with a Contact Officer or Grievance Officer, if available, before doing so. Another informal way to stop the behaviour is to ask someone else, such as the Grievance Officer, to approach the bully on your behalf or to mediate or facilitate face-to-face discussions and find a resolution that is acceptable to everyone involved.
CONTACT YOUR HSR
You may decide to contact your Health and Safety Representative to discuss a problem with workplace bullying. The functions of an elected Health and Safety Representative include liaising with employees on health, safety and welfare matters, and reporting to the employer any hazard or potential hazard to which employees might be exposed. Where there is a Health and Safety Committee, the Health and Safety Representative may refer the matter to the Health and Safety Committee. The Health and Safety Representative should be able to provide you with information, support and assistance in dealing with the bullying issues.
USE A COUNSELLING SERVICE
Some workplaces offer counseling services to employees. This may be provided free if your organisation provides an employee assistance program. Counseling may help you to develop ways of dealing with a bully or the effects of bullying.
Your Human Resources Officer should have information on an employee assistance program if there is one. Your union may also be able to provide information. The ‘Where to go for Further Information and Assistance’ section of this website provides information on external agencies that you can approach for advice or assistance.
A formal investigation may be required if the informal procedures are not successful or in situations where the allegations are more serious and there has been less favorable treatment or actual physical or psychological harm. This would usually be confirmed by preliminary enquiries undertaken by a Grievance Officer before a formal investigation is undertaken.
You may decide, or be required (if your workplace has a complaint process) to lodge a written complaint to your employer. If a formal investigation does occur, an impartial person who is not involved in the particular situation should carry this out. The investigator should document your report and keep a record of information gathered in the course of the investigation and you should be advised of the outcome.
Further, in the event that an investigation goes ahead you should be advised of:
- Your right to representation;
- Who will conduct the investigation;
- Measures in place to protect confidentiality and procedural fairness;
- The timeframe for the investigation;
- Possible outcomes and actions by the employer;
- Who will be provided with a copy of your statement and any report that may be produced; and
- That you are entitled to a copy of your own statement.
The OHS&W Act requires employers to attempt to resolve health, safety and welfare issues with the Health and Safety Representative, Health and Safety Committee or employees, according to the relevant procedures for the workplace. If these procedures do not succeed, the OHS&W Act sets out steps to resolve the issue. If an issue remains unresolved and/or there is a risk of serious and imminent injury or harm to someone, either the employer or a Health and Safety Representative may request a SafeWork SA OHS Inspector to attend the workplace.
If there is no Health and Safety Representative or Health and Safety Committee, you or another employee may lodge a complaint with SafeWork SA. An OHS Inspector will then attend the workplace and take whatever action under the legislation she or he considers appropriate.
The OHS Inspector’s role is to ensure the employer and employees meet their obligations under the legislation, not to mediate between the bullied person and the alleged bully. However, if after investigation into the matter, the OHS Inspector believes the involved parties can resolve the issue they may refer the case to the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) for conciliation or mediation.
A summary of relevant legislation and contacts for further advice are provided at the end of this booklet in the Where to Go For Help section and Legal Obligation section of this website.
In situations where the employer or the OHS Inspector concludes that the complaint of workplace bullying is justified there may be disciplinary action, usually in accordance with the anti-bullying policy and with relevant legislation. The employer is also required to make changes to the workplace to ensure that any breach of occupational safety and health legislation is rectified and the bullying ceases. These changes may include counseling for the alleged bully to enable them to recognize and take action to change their behaviour.