I am being bullied at work. How can I diplomatically resolve the situation?

I am being bullied at work. How can I diplomatically resolve the situation?

The modern-day workplace is filled with a diverse range of employees who hold different views and opinions, so it is only natural for disagreements to arise. Bullying is often an unfortunate outcome of such disagreements and due to the fragile nature of many professional relationships, resolving the situation is often a difficult predicament for the victim.

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (the Act) defines bullying to occur when “an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work”.[1]The three essential elements of this definition are:

  1. the behaviour is repetitive – a one-off incident does not constitute as “bullying”;
  2. the behaviour is “unreasonable” – the Act does not explicitly define what is meant by an “unreasonable” action, but common law provides examples which include intimidation, coercion, threats, emotional abuse and mocking;
  3. the behaviour occurs at work.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are being bullied, the first step should be to inform your Human Resources Department (if applicable) or an employee with the appropriate authority, to resolve the situation internally. By doing this, your employer is made aware of the bullying and are responsible to undertake appropriate action to resolve the bullying. A failure of an employer to take reasonable action may cause the employer to be vicariously liable for the bullying. (to read more on vicarious liability, see https://employmentlawonline.com.au/can-employer-held-vicariously-liable-employee/). Handling the bullying internally is naturally the most diplomatic (and sometimes efficient) means to resolve any workplace dispute.

If you have informed your employer and feel as though their initiatives were insufficient to stop the bullying or the bullying is carried out at the hands of your employer, you may apply to the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) for an order under the Act to stop the bullying.[2] To apply for this order, you may fill out the short quiz on the Commission’s website, assessing whether you are eligible, and fill out details of the bullying on the Form F72. After the form is lodged with Commission, the Commission sends a copy of the form to your employer and provides them with an opportunity to respond. Depending on the circumstances and nature of the bullying, the Commission will attempt to resolve the situation by means of mediation, conference or hearing.

However, if you have exhausted all the above-mentioned initiatives and are still unable to stop the bullying, you may feel as though there is no other option available but to resign. If you are feeling this way, you should seek legal advice prior to resigning to discuss your exit or whether resignation would amount to a constructive dismissal.

[1] The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) s 789FD(1)

[2] The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) s 789FF

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