While the #metoo movement arose around sexual harassment in the US entertainment industry, its impact has been felt in workplaces across the entire globe. Many would argue this movement has prompted a resurgence of complaints of workplace bullying and harassment. At a minimum, it has given people the courage to speak up and not be silenced.

“The simple truth is this: I was bullied out of my job. I was humiliated and driven to despair”. Those are the words of Christine Holgate, former CEO of Australia Post.

Ms Holgate’s recently reported case, along with countless other high profile cases across diverse industries (eg: mining, medical, politics and entertainment etc), have raised eyebrows about what employers can do to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace, and what can be done where bullying has been intrinsic part of a company’s culture.

Anti-bullying Legislation

It has been almost a decade since anti-bullying legislation was introduced. At the time, critics argued that these new laws would open the floodgates to vexatious or trivial complaints. In fact, the majority of claims registered with the Fair Work Commission were withdrawn or dismissed, and few orders have actually been made since its inception.

However, the introduction of this anti bullying legislation has forced employers to review their workplace practices and in our experience, employers are more committed than ever to investigating bullying claims and intervening early before a situation escalates and worsens.

Practical strategies for prevention of workplace bullying and harassment

  • Ensure your Employee Handbook contains a clear anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy. 
    • Explain what constitutes bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment in clear, unambiguous terms;
    • An explanation of what does not constitute bullying or harassment is also useful;
    • Communicate that any form of bullying or harassment will not be tolerated.
  • Employees must understand the procedure to raise grievances
    • This information may be contained in the Bullying and Harassment policy itself or within a separate “Grievance Handling” policy;
    • Emphasise that any complaint will be taken seriously, treated confidentially, and will be investigated thoroughly;
    • Ensure that consequences of a breach are understood which could take the form of disciplinary action and may include termination.
  • Leaders must be positive role models
    • Leaders at all levels must model values of everyday respect and courtesy.
    • Corporate messaging of inclusivity must be matched with the right behaviours across the organisation.
  • Provide regular training
    • to employees to explain what bullying and harassment are and reinforce the procedures to file a complaint, as well as the consequences for participating in these behaviours.
    • to managers so they are versed in the procedures and equipped to handle the sensitive nature of these complaints in a fair, confidential and compassionate manner.
  • Monitor your workplace periodically
    • Encourage open communication and demonstrate a willingness to intervene when needed.
    • Conduct regular check ins with employees and ask open-ended questions about the work environment, atmosphere and how things are going.
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
    • These programs can be useful to provide additional counselling support to employees who have experienced workplace bullying or harassment.

The important role People and Culture and Leaders play in maintaining a workplace free of bullying and sexual harassment cannot be underestimated as businesses have a duty of care to their employees to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. An organisational culture that does not tolerate this misconduct will create an environment for employees which is a more productive and enjoyable one where employees feel valued and respected.

Nick Hedges is the founder of Resolve HR, a Sydney-based HR consultancy specialising in providing workplace advice to managers and business owners. He recently published his first book, “Is Your Team Failing Or Kicking Goals – Take Control Of Your People And Their Performance”. It is a practical response to the most pressing HR challenges, which can be found at https://resolvehr.com.au/.

Disclaimer: The contents do not constitute legal advice and does not cater for individual circumstances.   The information contained herein is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

Add Comment