Article written by Nardine Collier
Family Lawyer Cairns & Alice Springs

The workplace has greatly changed since I started work at age 16. What was tolerated or considered “just good fun” might now get you into some trouble! Bullying and discrimination in the workplace is now almost ‘zero tolerance’ and Employers need to know what it is, what it isn’t, and take steps to deal with allegations properly if made in their workplace.
So what is bullying? The Fair Work website defines it as follows.
“A worker is bullied at work if: a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them or a group of workers, and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Examples of bullying include:
  • behaving aggressively
  • teasing or practical jokes
  • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately
  • excluding someone from work-related events or
  • unreasonable work demands;
  • Management action that isn’t carried out in a reasonable way.
What isn’t bullying
A manager can make decisions about poor performance, take disciplinary action, and direct and control the way work is carried out.
Reasonable management action that’s carried out in a reasonable way is not bullying.”
You can see that there might be a difference of opinion about what is unreasonable behaviour, for example when does teasing in the spirit of good fun cross the line and become unreasonable? How does a manager address poor performance without being accused of being a bully?

Regardless of personal opinion, employers have an obligation to ensure they properly address allegations of bullying. Left unchecked, conflict like this in the workplace causes serious damage to the workplace environment.

The first step employers should take to address bullying in the workplace is to have good policies and procedures in place that everyone knows about and understands. For example, what behaviour does the workplace condone and what is considered inappropriate; how does a worker report an allegation of bullying and how will it be investigated?

Most importantly, a workplace must deal with any allegations of inappropriate bullying behaviour without delay and before it escalates into a major dispute. I suggest, the best way to do this is to have an independent person with the proper training, assess the situation and if appropriate to do so, mediate the dispute. This ensures confidentiality, and impartiality.

A properly conducted mediation can resolve the issue without great expense and improve the working environment.

Collier Family Law incorporates Workplace Legal Solutions, specialising in mediation of workplace disputes; but also drafting of policies and procedures and workplace investigations.

Nardine Collier is a Nationally Accredited mediator and has been mediating family law disputes for 20 years. She is a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, a Family Law Arbitrator, a panel mediator for various Australia wide organisations and for courts and tribunals, and regularly mediates at legal aid conferences in family law, in Cairns and the Northern Territory. She is also the Cairns representative of the Queensland Chapter of the Resolution Institute of Australia.