Legislation protects employees from bullying, harassment

Queensland extends definition of harassment to cover a wide range of behaviours

On June 1, 2004, workers in the Australian state of Queensland will be protected from bullying and workplace harassment through new legislation.

The definition of harassment — which includes unwelcome and unsolicited behaviour that is offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening — is intended to cover a wide range of behaviours that can have an adverse impact on the workplace health and safety of workers and other persons.

“Harassing behaviours can range from subtle intimidation to more obvious aggressive tactics,” the government said in an advisory on the new legislation.

It gave the following as a list of examples of behaviours that may be regarded as workplace harassment:

•abusing a person loudly, usually when others are present;

•repeated threats of dismissal or other severe punishment for no reason;

•constant ridicule and being put down;

•leaving offensive messages on e-mail or the telephone;

•sabotaging a person’s work, for example, by deliberately withholding or supplying incorrect information, hiding documents or equipment, not passing on messages and getting a person into trouble in other ways;

•maliciously excluding and isolating a person from workplace activities;

•persistent and unjustified criticisms, often about petty, irrelevant or insignificant matters;

•humiliating a person through gestures, sarcasm, criticism and insults, often in front of customers, management or other workers; and

•spreading gossip or false, malicious rumours about a person with an intent to cause the person harm.

The harassment does not include reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way by the person’s employer in connection with the person’s employment, nor does it include sexual harassment which is dealt with in separate legislation.

Indirect signs of workplace harassment

The government said signs of workplace harassment may appear indirectly. These signs may not always be linked with workplace harassment and need to be considered within the overall workplace environment.

Indirect signs of harassment may include:

•changes in HR management trends, such as increase levels of absenteeism and staff turnover and increases in the use of employee counseling services;

•workers leaving the organization reporting dissatisfaction with working relationships;

•negative results from organizational climate and worker opinion surveys;

•the breakdown of relationships between workers, customers or management;

•workers becoming withdrawn and isolated; and

•poor worker morale and erosion of loyalty and commitment.

Managing the risk

Workplace harassment can occur in any workplace, given certain circumstances, the government warned in the advisory. It is important that employers apply the risk management process to prevent or control exposure to the risk of workplace harassment.

The risk management process involves:

identifying the hazards;

assessing the risks that may result because of the hazards;

deciding on controlling measures to prevent or control the level of the risks;

implementing control measures; and

monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the control measures.

The Queensland government’s 28-page advisory can be downloaded at www.whs.qld.gov.au/advisory/adv030.pdf.

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