Bullying in the workplace – for employees

Navigating workplace health and safety

In the dynamic field of construction, fostering a safe and respectful workplace is paramount for the well-being of all employees. This comprehensive guide is crafted to empower female apprentices and women in the construction industry, offering valuable insights into recognising, preventing, and addressing workplace bullying.

Understanding workplace bullying

As an ever-evolving document, this second version continues to refine strategies for handling workplace bullying, ensuring its relevance in a changing professional landscape.

Workplace bullying is not only a challenge to the mental and physical health of workers but also poses significant risks to overall workplace health and safety. Failing to manage this risk adequately can lead to violations of Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. Every individual within the workplace is responsible for preventing workplace bullying, guided by WHS laws that mandate taking reasonable care not to affect the health and safety of others adversely. Compliance with reasonable instructions and workplace policies, particularly those addressing bullying, is crucial.

This comprehensive guide, serving as a compass for workers, mainly focusing on female apprentices and women in construction, is a valuable resource. It aims to equip and empower these individuals by providing essential information for identifying, preventing, and resolving workplace bullying. The guide endeavours to foster a culture of respect and inclusivity within the construction industry.

Understanding workplace bullying

Defining workplace bullying

The psychological and physical impact

The psychological and physical impact

Workplace bullying adversely affects both the psychological and physical well-being of individuals. Effective control measures are essential to minimise risks and prevent the normalisation of such behaviour. Workplace bullying is characterised by repeated and unreasonable actions directed towards a worker or a group, creating a tangible risk to health and safety. The guide emphasises that not all behaviour causing upset or undervaluation qualifies as bullying, providing examples to illustrate this distinction.

Single incidents and violence

Single incidents and violence

While a single incident may not constitute workplace bullying, it is crucial not to dismiss it, as there is a potential for escalation. If instances involve violence, such as physical assault or threats, immediate reporting to the police is warranted.

What is not workplace bullying?

Managers and supervisors engaging in reasonable actions, such as allocating work and providing feedback on a worker’s performance, do not constitute workplace bullying if conducted lawfully and reasonably considering specific circumstances. Recognising that the legitimate exercise of managerial authority may cause some discomfort for workers is essential. The assessment of whether management actions are reasonable is based on the actual action rather than the worker’s perception. If management action significantly deviates from established policies or procedures, its reasonableness is evaluated in the given circumstances.

Determining reasonableness involves an objective test in a court of law, where examples of reasonable management action may include:

  • Setting realistic and achievable performance goals, standards, and deadlines
  • Fair and appropriate rostering and allocation of working hours
  • Transferring a worker to another area or role for operational reasons
  • Deciding not to select a worker for a promotion, following a fair and transparent process
  • Informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance in an honest, fair, and constructive manner
  • Communicating objectively and confidentially about unreasonable behaviour
  • Implementing organisational change or restructuring
  • Take disciplinary action, including suspension or termination, where appropriate or justified.

How can workplace bullying occur?

Workplace bullying takes various forms, spanning verbal or physical abuse, electronic communication via email, text messages, internet chat rooms, instant messaging, or other social media channels. Significantly, workplace bullying can extend beyond the workplace premises. It may target an individual or a group of workers and may be instigated by one or more individuals. The occurrences of workplace bullying can manifest in different directions:

  • Sideways involve conflicts between co-workers.
  • Downwards, where supervisors or managers target workers
  • Upwards, as workers direct bullying behaviours toward supervisors or managers.

Impact of workplace bullying

Workplace bullying can have severe consequences, impacting individuals and the work environment. The effects, which vary based on individual characteristics and situations, may manifest as:

  • Distress, anxiety, panic attacks, or sleep disturbance
  • Physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems
  • Reduced work performance, concentration, and decision-making ability
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family, and friends
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of suicide

Disclaimer: The above information has been provided ‘without prejudice’ and does not constitute legal advice. Women Building NSW does not accept any legal liability arising from or connected to the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of the information contained in this section. On this basis, the individual may need to seek independent legal advice to address this matter formally should the circumstances change, or the issues arise and become disputed.

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