Well, Australia has beaten us again. Not in rugby, but in implementing Workplace Bullying legislation to try and effectively respond to the AUD$6 bill – AUD$36 billion that it costs Australian workplaces in lost productivity annually. Effective from 1 January 2014, changes to Australian mainstream employment laws means that workers now have new rights to apply to Australia’s industrial tribunal, the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying that is occurring. What’s also important is that the wording states “workers” as opposed to “employees” – so that contractors, apprentices, trainees, volunteers and students gaining work experience are also covered.
In Australia, the average costs to employers in resolving a formal claim of bullying is between AUD$17,000 and AUD$24,000 per claim – mainly due to costs associated with staff turnover and investigations and responding to bullying allegations. As well as these costs, the workplace costs also include the decline in motivation and productivity for a wide range of other staff, negative effects on workplace culture as well as the damage done to the company’s reputation.
Workplace Bullying is prevalent across this country too and employers are just bleeding out money in legal fees, court cases, claim settlements and lost productivity – estimated to be costing this country many millions of dollars – more than other workplace hazards that seem to get more attention. In April 2010, a joint University report was released that involved Auckland, Waikato, Massey and London researchers polling over 1700 workers from the health, education, hospitality and travel sectors. This report found that 1 in 5 workers suffer from workplace bullying, one of the worst rates in the world.
C’mon New Zealand, we need to wake up and accept that there is a raft of evidence supporting the level of workplace bullying in this country.
Although we don’t yet have specific bullying legislation, employers can face legal action, especially under the Health & Safety in Employment Act – when you consider stress to be an identifiable hazard. Employers can also face legal action under the Human Rights Act, Harassment Act or Employment Relations Act.
According to an analysis by the EMA, 67% of all workplace bullying claims investigated by the Employment Relations Authority, in 2012, found in favour of the employee. These are just the ones that are in front of the ERA – there are so many more that are settled with the employee before it gets to the ERA.
For some years now, I have delivered workplace bullying training to those organisations who are proactive, want to ensure that they have systems and procedures in place to stop bullying in its tracks and to help employees know exactly what bullying is, and what it isn’t. But these are just a handful of organisations. Most organisations turn a blind eye, they say things like “it doesn’t happen in our organisation” and they are afraid that by drawing attention to the issue, they will ‘open a can of worms’.
So what is now happening in Australia, is that workplaces are scrambling for some awareness, scrambling for information to distribute to their workers and scrambling to avoid claims being made, because now they face serious fines.
We can become a much more proactive nation – we can choose to be proactive employers, consider training programmes, information and awareness, and hopefully in time, this will reduce the incidence of what really is unlawful workplace bullying and the significant related costs.
There are obligations on both the employer and the employee – under the HSE Amendment Act, employers “ought reasonably to have known” that there was a workplace bullying issue, in order to effectively respond. The employer is obliged therefore, to provide a safe environment in order for an employee to make a complaint in the first instance. All too often the ‘turning a blind eye’, ‘you’re over reacting’ responses are secondary bullying and create a culture of intimidation and mistrust.