Workplace bullying

Bullying in general practice is often subtle and hard to recognise. Mostly it will be happening without the bully appreciating the impact their behaviour is having. Workplace stress and pressures can exacerbate bullying behaviour. Bullying is like racism and discrimination, it has no place in modern Australian workplaces – but unfortunately it exist - one in six people have been bullied.

This article has some notes on what bully is, but importantly, the focus is on the importance of being a supportive bystander to someone else who is being bullied. Research shows that validation by others and support will rapidly change the dynamic in relationships where bullying may be happening.

GPN recognises that the a focus on prevention and prevention policies across the sector will be the best approach.
   

Workplace bullying during GP training

Workplace bullying is a serious concern. As a trainee, it can be difficult to know what to do if you are being bullied at work. But this behaviour can impact your health, self-esteem and your enjoyment of your careers. So if you are being bullied, GPN urges you to report the problem. This usually means reporting it to your GP Supervisor and/or your Director of Training.
If in doubt, please call GPN on 03 9629 8878.
    

Supportive bystanders

People respect people who stand up for others. But being a supportive bystander can be tough. Sometimes it is not easy to work out how to  safely assist because bullying happens in different ways. There is no one size fits all approach to being a supportive bystander. For supportive bystanders to take safe and effective action here are some suggestions:

  • If you witness bullying, consider standing close to the person who is being bullied.
  • Make it clear that you won’t be involved in bullying behaviour.
  • Support the person who is being bullied. Suggest they ask for help for example go with them to a place they can get help or provide them with information about where to go for help (for example, GPN).
  • Report it to someone in authority or someone you trust at work. If the bullying is serious, report it to the police; if the bullying occurs on social media, report it.
  • Make notes of what you witnessed.
      

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group of people at work. Prevocational doctors can also be bullied by their training provider.

Some types of workplace bullying are criminal offences. If you have experienced violence, assault and stalking for instance – these matters should be reported to the police.

Workplace bullying means any behaviour that is repeated, systematic and directed towards an employee or group of employees that a reasonable person, having regard to the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten and which creates a risk to health and safety.’ (Section 55A (1) of the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986).
   

Definitions

  • Repeated refers to bullying which is persistent or ongoing and can refer to several types of behaviour as opposed to one particular act.
  • Systematic refers to having, showing or involving a method or plan to deliberately bully the victim. Whether behaviour is systematic or not will depend on an analysis of the circumstances of each individual case with this general guideline in mind.
  • Risk to health and safety includes the emotional, mental and physical health of the person who is being bullied.

There are many different examples of workplace bullying – not just the obvious ones. If you are subject to, or witness workplace bullying you must report the occurrence to your supervisor. Workplace bullying is illegal. Employers have a duty of care towards employees and must take disciplinary action in cases of bullying. If you have any issues requiring clarification, contact your hospital manager or the designated OH&S officer.

Obvious examples of workplace bullying may include:

  • Abusive, insulting or offensive language
  • Behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades, including criticism that is delivered with yelling and screaming
  • Regular teasing or making practical jokes against one particular person
  • Displaying material that is degrades or offends
  • Spreading malicious gossip, rumours and innuendo
  • Violence, assault and stalking. This is extreme bullying and should be reported to the police immediately
  • Harmful or offensive initiation practices.

More subtle examples of workplace bullying may include:

  • Deliberately excluding, isolating or marginalising a person from normal workplace activities
  • Invading a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or tampering with their personal effects or work equipment
  • Inappropriate personal comments, belittlement and unjustified criticism, used to intimidate a person
  • Undermining, unfair or disempowering behaviour.
For example:
  • Overloading a person with work
  • Setting impossible deadlines, or constantly changing deadlines
  • Setting tasks that are unreasonably beyond a person’s ability
  • Ignoring or isolating a person
  • Deliberately denying access to information, consultation or resources
  • Unfair treatment in relation to accessing workplace entitlements, such as leave or training.
       

How bullying can affect your work

If you are being bullied at work you might:

  • be less active or successful
  • be less confident in your work
  • feel scared, stressed, anxious or depressed
  • have your life outside of work affected, eg. study, relationships
  • want to stay away from work
  • feel like you can’t trust your employer or the people who you work with
  • lack confidence and happiness about yourself and your work
  • have physical signs of stress like headaches, backaches, sleep problems.
      

What is not workplace bullying

Some practices in the workplace may not seem fair but are not bullying. Your employer is allowed to transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench or sack you (as long as they are acting reasonably).
  

What to do if you are being bullied

Workplace bullying is a serious issue. You should not tolerate it and GPN recommends the following steps.

  • Check for a policy in your workplace on bullying prevention – Get a clear understanding of your rights and responsibilities.
  • Keep a diary of events – Record the incidents in as much detail as possible. For example when and where it happened, who was responsible and how you felt and record the names of people willing to support your claims.
  • Identify the bully or bullies – Who is the ringleader/ who has the power?
  • Approach the bully – Sometimes speaking to the alleged bully directly will solve the problem. Tell him/her that you object to their bullying behaviour and tell him/her to stop. If the bullying continues report the matter to your workplace contact officer or have someone else approach the alleged bully on your behalf. All employers have a duty to thoroughly investigate and where appropriate take disciplinary action against workplace bullies.
  • Talk about it – Discuss the problem with other workers and your OH&S representatives.
  • Do not retaliate – Don’t become a bully yourself or use physical violence.
  • Stay where you are – Don’t resign or seek a transfer – this would make the bully win.
  • Make a formal complaint to your supervisor – If the bully or bullies won’t stop or if you are subject to victimisation then put your complaint in writing and keep a copy.
      

Points to remember

  • Everyone has the right to a safe and comfortable workplace free of bullying.
  • Workplace bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour directed toward a person or a group of persons that creates a risk to health and safety.
  • Workplace bullying does not just mean physical harm or risk – it also includes psychological harm or risk.
  • Workplace bullying should not be confused with proper management, direction and control. An employer is entitled to improve productivity and efficiency in the workplace, and to control your workplace activities. Constructive criticism and negative feedback, when delivered appropriately are not classed as bullying.
       

Getting help

If you have made a complaint to your manager or others in your workplace and there have not been adequate steps taken to stop the bullying there are a number of options that you can take to get help.

GPN recognises that a focus on prevention and prevention policies across the sector will be the best approach. For more information phone GPN on 03 9629 8878 or email gpnenquiries@gpra.org.au

When to contact the police

If bullying is violent or threatening it may be a criminal offence and you should contact the police immediately call 000.

If the situation in not urgent you can call 131 444 for all states and territories except for Victoria where you will need to visit your local police station.

Make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission

If you are been bullied, harassed or discriminated against because of your race, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion or because you have a disability or are pregnant you can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419 or view the website here.

The Commonwealth Fairwork Ombudsman can provide information and advice about Australia’s workplace rights and rules and the protection you have against harassment and discrimination. Contact the Fairwork Ombudsman 13 13 94 or view their website here.

Report bullying to a state or territory work health and safety authority

Your employer has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. You can report bullying incidents to the following state and territory work health and safety authorities.

Australian Capital Territory

WorkSafe ACT can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Call 02 6207 3000 or visit the website here.

New South Wales

Workcover Authority of NSW can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Call 13 10 50 visit the website here.

Northern Territory

NT Worksafe can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Call 1800 019 115 or visit the website here.

South Australia

SafeWork SA can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Call 1300 365 255. Visit the website here.

Victoria

Workplace Victoria can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Visit the website here.

Queensland

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. You can call the Young Workers Advisory Service on 1800 232 000 or the Workplace Bullying Hotline on 1800 177 717 or visit the website here.

Western Australia

WorkSafe WA can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Call 1300 655266 or visit the website here.

Online resources

Bully Free at Work: bullyfreeatwork.com

Australian Human Rights Commission: https://bullying.humanrights.gov.au/

Brodie's Law: the Victorian Government launches anti-bullying video. View here.

Evelyn Field  writes really helpful books on this topic – she is based in Melbourne. Find out more here.