Bullying and harassment in the workplace will always be with us. For example, in a recent report, London researcher Cecilia Harvey drew attention to the “Queen bee syndrome”, which occurs where women “use their social intelligence to manipulate relationships or damage colleagues’ reputations”. She went on to say: “Queen bees are women [who] treat colleagues in a demoralising, undermining, or bullying manner. They are adult versions of the mean girls from school.”

Workplace bullying and harassment are ugly members of the same family. They thrive in the workplace, wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent employees. But while they are closely related, they have some striking differences.

Workplace Bullying is deliberate, disrespectful and repeated behaviour toward a target for the bully’s gain.

Harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct that violates people’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.

For those of you who have to deal with the results of with bullying or harassment, or maybe been a target of one or the other, you need to know how the real damage occurs.

Here are some differences:

  1. Workplace harassment has a strong intrusive component including physical contact such as invading physical space, including personal possessions and damage to possessions: workplace bullying is almost always psychological and a lot of it is underhand.
  2. Workplace harassment is usually linked to issues such as sex, race, prejudice or discrimination: workplace bullying frequently takes the form of sly attacks on competent and often popular individuals.
  3. Someone who is the target of workplace harassment usually knows he or she is being harassed immediately – especially in the case of sexual harassment. Because bullying is more underhanded, the target may not realise what’s happening for weeks or months, and by then, great damage is done.
  4. Workplace harassment is usually accompanied by offensive aggressive vocabularyWorkplace bullying shows its face through trivial untrue criticisms of supposed under-performance.

What’s to be done?

The following is a “top ten” list of the essentials for preventing and dealing with harassment and bullying:

  1. Create and communicate your policies and procedures for dealing with workplace misconduct.
  2. Establish an effective complaint procedure and encourage employees to feel comfortable coming to you with any problems they face at work, including any bullying or harassment that might occur.
  3. Treat any incident as if it is a court case from the moment it is reported (most importantly, notify your lawyer right away).
  4. Quickly investigate any claims that might occur.
  5. Don’t take any action that can be seen as harming the person making the complaint. (For example, don’t transfer the complaining party to a worse location in the workplace in order to separate the parties).
  6. Do whatever is necessary to stop the behaviour immediately.
  7. Restore any job benefits that were lost due to the behaviour.
  8. Discipline the person whose conduct is at fault. If disciplinary action is not considered appropriate, document the reasons why.
  9. If an investigation has uncovered past discrimination based on the harassing conduct, take action to see that it can’t happen again.
  10. Painstakingly document the investigation and the steps you took to remedy the situation.

And above all: stopping workplace bullying is everyone’s responsibility.

If you believe there may be bullying or harassment taking place in your business, we can help you with where to start and how to put best practices into motion. Call us at JFMLAW on 02 9331 0266.

John Morrissey

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