How to Deal with Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying can not only affect the physical and mental health of employees, but also cause considerable damage to your business if not adequately addressed. However, for many businesses the challenge lies in knowing the correct procedure to respond to and manage incidents of workplace bullying.

First, before knowing how to deal with bullying it is important to have an understanding of what workplace bullying actually means. Workplace bulling is defined by the Fair Work Act 2009 as:

“When an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker, or a group of workers of which the worker is a member, and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.”

Addressing bullying within the workplace can be a sensitive issue for all parties involved, so its important employers take the right approach. When an allegation is first raised or a manager believes bullying might be occurring, it must be actioned as soon as practicable. In responding to a bullying allegation, applying the following best practice steps will help ensure your business is adequately responding to the risk.

1. Identify the nature and scope of the allegations

It is important to set time aside to gather as much information as possible surrounding the allegations. Things might not always be as they seem and more information can come out while investigating, so it’s important to remain objective throughout the process.

It is also important to be clear and precise about the nature of the grievance. If the investigator cannot describe the scope, or what the allegation actually includes, there is the risk it will not be investigated fully or may even involve a waste of resources investigating matters that fall outside the complaint.

2. Commence investigation

The investigation stage must be entered with an open mind and the investigator is to remain impartial at all stages. Depending on the nature of the allegations employers may need to consider whether it is appropriate for the investigation to be conducted internally or to have an independent party undertake the investigation.

At this stage, the investigator should give each party a clear indication of what to expect from the investigation process.

Workers and others involved in the investigation may require support to ensure their well-being and demonstrate the process is being conducted fairly. At the very least, this would involve ensuring each party knows who to contact if they require any additional support at any stage of the process.

3. Meet with complainant

After the scope of the investigation has been determined the next step is to take time to sit down with the complainant. The purpose of having an investigation interview with the complainant is to:

  • gather information on the complainant’s version of facts (what, when, where, who, how);
  • determine what it is about the facts or events that concerns the complainant;
  • determine whether the complaint can provide any corroborating evidence;
  • get the complainants opinion on what would resolve their concerns; and
  • identify whether there are any witnesses who should be interviewed next.

After meeting with the complainant, the investigator should then meet with any witnesses so the business has all critical information readily accessible before meeting with the alleged bully.

4. Meet with the respondent

After all information about the grievance has been gathered, the respondent (alleged bully) should be invited to an investigation interview. It is often recommended to inform the respondent they can bring a support person.

During this interview it is fundamental the employee is given a proper opportunity to respond to the allegations. A decision as to the appropriate outcome will not be made until after this meeting has occurred, and in most cases, an investigation report finalised.

5. Determine outcomes

Once the investigation is complete, the next consideration is determining the most appropriate action to take. This could involve engaging in a mediation with the parties involved to come to an agreed resolution or could involve taking disciplinary actions.

The investigator should provide a summary of findings to the complainant and respondent. It may also be suitable to notify any witnesses that the investigation is now complete and confirm they should continue to treat the matters raised with them as confidential.

Dealing with bullies

There are a number of ways in which bullying may be addressed after an investigation. These include:

Mediation

Mediation is a process which gives each party the opportunity to discuss the matter in an informal setting. Mediation might be appropriate where the behaviour did not meet the definition of bullying, however there has been a breakdown in the relationship between the parties.

The purpose of the mediation is to give each party the opportunity to speak their point of view with the ultimate goal of forming a resolution moving forward. The role of an employer in a mediation is only to act as a facilitator to ensure that meaningful discussions between the parties are taking place. However, mediation will not be appropriate in all circumstances, therefore it is important to assess the suitability of mediation in each case.

Disciplinary action

Disciplinary action could involve undertaking a disciplinary meeting after the investigation is completed. In this meeting the business seeks comments from the employee on their behaviour within the workplace and makes a decision based on their response. This could involve taking action such as providing the employee with a written warning.

How to stop bullying in the workplace?

There are multiple contingencies which can be put in place to stop and prevent bullying within the workplace, these practices can include:

  • Implementing a bullying and harassment policy or a code of conduct within your workplace to demonstrate the expected standard of conduct.
  • Regularly checking in with employees. Sometimes it can be hard to be completely connected with the business so consulting with employees can provide information about what might be happening behind the scenes.
  • Engaging in education about bullying within the workplace.
  • Implementing anonymous reporting. Reporting allegations can be a very sensitive topic to bring up in person, by giving employees the ability to anonymously report grievances it can enable you to be more aware of instances that occur within the workplace.
  • Offering support and counselling to employees.

Dealing with allegations of bullying, and bullies in the workplace is never easy. If your business needs support in this area HR Assured has a team of experienced workplace relations specialists who can assist in the case management of these issues. For more information contact us today.