Stopping workplace bullying, harassment, sexual harassment – what can you do?

Firstly it is important to accept that you can’t stop it 100%, but what you can do is take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of workplace bullying harassment and sexual harassment to your employees and your business.

Workplace bullying, harassment and sexual harassment is damaging to those who experience it, those who witness it and can be very damaging and costly to the organisation.

Reasonable steps to reduce the risk

Stopping workplace bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment is something that all organisations should aspire to, here are some suggestions;

  1. Have policies and procedures in place that clearly set out the behavioural expectations of your organisation. Policies and procedures alone will not stop the bullies and harassers they will however give you the mechanisms and ammunition to deal with complaints and grievances.
  2. Conduct training that re-enforces your policies and procedures and the behavioural expectations of your organisation. Once again training alone is not a magic pill but combined with your policies and procedures it will give you further mechanisms and ammunition to deal with complaints and grievances.
  3. Have a trusted reporting mechanism in place, make sure the key parties, managers, HR managers and team members or other delegated persons understand their role when a complaint or grievance is raised and how they should respond effectively. This may require training in how to respond to and manage complaints and grievances.

    Your employees must be able to have faith in the process, if complaints are not treated seriously and acted on in a timely manner employees will lose faith in the reporting process and it may be seen that bad behaviour is tolerated.

  4. Take action if something comes to your notice even if it hasn’t been officially reported. Everyone in a workplace has a duty of care to take all reasonable step to protect the health and safety of others, (see the Work Health and Safety Act sections 19 – 29 on duties and sections 30 – 33 on penalties – http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/whasa2011218/)

    An organisation or individual may be found to have breached the Act and it’s Duty of Care if it does not take all reasonable steps to eliminate and/or respond to workplace bullying harassment or sexual harassment and if that breach puts a person (the victim) at a risk of death or serious injury or illness (such as depression, anxiety, PTSD) serious consequences can follow by way of action under the act or being sued for negligence.

  5. Have an effective complaint and grievance investigation process in place. Ensure that matters are investigated in a timely, professional and fair manner to all involved. If the matter is complex and you don’t feel that you have internal expertise or experience consider outsourcing to an expert.
  6. Have an understand procedural fairness, the rules of evidence, effective interviewing technique, report writing requirements at law, the standard or proof in civil matters and the test applied at the Fair Work Commission in regard to unfair dismissal it might be worth considering engaging the services of a qualified and experienced workplace investigator. If you don’t have an on-going relationship with a workplace investigator I suggest you have a look at this article – http://awpti.com.au/workplace-investigator/

If you organisation is not able to tick ALL the above boxes;

  1. Check your policies and procedures, if necessary, update or re-draft the existing ones or draft new ones.

    * All employees and managers should undertake bullying, harassment and sexual harassment training.
    * All managers should undertake reasonable management action, performance management and complaint handling training
    * All HR professionals should undertake complaint handling and investigation training.
  2. Review your reporting mechanism, do you have one?, is it effective?, do the employees trust and use it?
  3. Review your processes in regard to the reporting of matters should they become known
  4. Review your complaint and grievance investigation process, do you have the necessary internal expertise or experience or the time to deal with complex matters*.
  5. Call an expert.

* On complex matters, in my opinion all workplace bullying harassment sexual harassment complaints and grievances should be treated as complex matter, if they are not at the start they usually end up being that way by the time the matter is concluded.

If you take the actions listed above, while never been able to guarantee that you have eliminated bullying harassment or sexual harassment in your workplace, you can say that you have taken all reasonable steps.

AWPTI is able to help you at every step of the way with;
HR support – http://awpti.com.au/hr-support/
Training for managers – http://awpti.com.au/management-training/  For staff – http://awpti.com.au/employee-training/ 
For HR team members – http://awpti.com.au/investigation-training/

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