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Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace – What Can You Do?

Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Bullying or harassment are rightly considered unacceptable practices in any part of society but what are your options for dealing with this behaviour if you experience it at your place of work?

In contemporary society, many – though certainly not all – employers and organisations will have detailed anti-bullying policies in place to deal with any instances of this behaviour. They do so because to ignore or fail to deal with bullying or harassing behaviour can leave them liable to later legal action for not providing a safe place to work.

There are a number of options you can take if you’re experiencing bullying or harassment at work, ranging from bringing it to the attention of the national Fair Work Commission, SafeWork NSW, or consulting specialist compensation lawyers about seeking workers’ compensation because you have sustained a psychological injury as a result of the behaviour. This article deals with the last circumstance.

What is bullying behaviour?

Bullying and harassment can take different forms and could constitute overt or less obvious behaviour. Essentially it involves verbal, physical, psychological or social abuse by a manager, colleague or another group of people at work.

Non-exhaustive examples of bullying behaviour include:

  • abusive or offensive language or comments directed at you;
  • aggressive and intimidating behaviour towards you;
  • belittling or humiliating comments directed at you;
  • sexual harassment, including unwanted touching;
  • practical jokes or initiation;
  • excluding you from workplace activities;
  • unjustified criticism or complaints.

The effects of bullying on a person are well documented. They can affect a person’s confidence and self-esteem, causing anxiety, depression and sleeplessness. Importantly for employers, these effects can also lead to a significant loss of productivity and wellbeing in the employee.

What should you do if you experience bullying and harassment at work?

The first thing to do is to check whether your company or organisation has an anti-bullying policy and, if so, what is the procedure for reporting this type of behaviour.

Secondly, if you’re confident and able to, you should directly inform the person responsible that you find their behaviour unacceptable and would like them to stop. You should also report the behaviour to an immediate supervisor, manager, health and safety or human resources officer, or a union representative.

Remember that employers have a duty to provide a workplace that protects the health and safety of their employees, including the psychological health of workers.

At this stage you may also want to consult a lawyer experienced in workplace and employment law issues to see what options you may have to stop the behaviour or seek redress for the damage it has caused to your life both at and outside of work.

Making a workers’ compensation claim as a result of bullying

If you believe bullying in your workplace has resulted in you having a psychological or psychiatric injury, you may be able to apply for workers’ compensation through the NSW scheme.

In order for a claim of this type to succeed you will need to provide medical evidence that supports your claim that you’ve suffered psychological or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying. This evidence must distinguish your claim from those where an employee’s distress is caused by what’s called “reasonable management action” – such as having your work responsibilities changed, being transferred, demoted, disciplined, retrenched, dismissed or otherwise treated in a way that management can argue is reasonable.

Permanent impairment

In certain cases, a person may find they are unable to continue working due to the effects of serious workplace bullying. This may be said to cause permanent impairment, for which they may be eligible for a lump sum compensation payment. In order to prove this level of impairment, a specialist medical assessor –  trained in the exact method used to decide how much your psychological injury has affected your life and ability to function – needs to confirm that you have a permanent primary psychological injury that has produced at least 15 per cent “whole person impairment”.

It’s important to note that if you succeed in obtaining a lump sum payment for permanent impairment, any weekly workers’ compensation payments you may have been receiving will end.

If you believe your psychological or psychiatric condition has been caused by the negligence of your employer, work injury damages may also be available to cover past and future economic loss. Again, the 15 per cent whole person impairment threshold is used to determine this type of claim.

How can legal advice help?

Expert compensation lawyers such as the professionals at BPC will tell you that proving psychological injury as a result of workplace stress caused by something such as bullying is considerably more difficult than cases involving physical injury at work. But that’s not to say they are unheard of and the advice of legal professionals with expertise in this area is usually the difference between successful and unsuccessful claims.

In short, it can be a confusing and complicated landscape to navigate, particularly if you’re already experiencing anxiety and stress as a result of the bullying behaviour.

For this reason it’s highly advisable to seek out the guidance and advice of a law firm with expertise in workplace compensation claims help restore your quality of life and move on from the unreasonable behaviour of other people at your place of work. Contact award-winning personal injury lawyers in Sydney today on (02) 8280 6900 for a free legal consultation.