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Bullying and harassment: Why a simple slur can put you in hot water

July 20, 2016


Eddie McGuire is again in the news this week, this time reflecting back on his recent politically incorrect slurs. In an article by the Sydney Morning Herald, McGuire blames his 2013 racial slur about AFL player Adam Goodes, where he commented that Goodes could have ‘starred in King Kong the musical’ on ‘heavy-duty painkillers, antibiotics and steroids.’  McGuire commented that his comments about Goodes kept him awake at night, and burns [him] to the core that what [he] said would add any level of pain to Adam or the Indigenous community.’

McGuire’s latest media slur involved sports journalist Caroline Wilson where he make continuous jokes about her ‘drowning’ but later apologised and played down the comments as ‘banter.’

So if McGuire’s comments were taken out of context, or were unintended to cause harm, would they still be considered as bullying in the workplace?

Bullying and harassment means different things to different people in different situations. Bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. It includes but is not limited to abusive, insulting or offensive language, inappropriate comments about a person’s family or lifestyle and behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades someone. To be considered bullying, there needs to have been more than one event but can be a pattern of different types of behaviour.

An important point is that the behaviour doesn’t have to be intentional i.e. the ‘bully’ doesn’t have to intend that the behaviour victimises/humiliates etc. It would still be considered bullying if a ‘reasonable person’ would consider this to be the case. It is therefore irrelevant if the person making the comments didn’t think they were offensive.

So how can you reinforce your stance against bullying and harassment in the workplace?

All businesses should ensure they have implemented a comprehensive and compliant bullying and harassment workplace policy. The policy should outline what behaviour would constitute bullying and harassment, what wouldn’t be considered bullying (i.e. reasonable management action) and any consequences for breach of the policy, i.e. disciplinary proceedings up to an including termination.

For more information on bullying and harassment, workplace policies and what this means for you, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today.