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Workplace bullying code slammed by employers

Thursday, 5 January 2012 | By Michelle Hammond
A leading business group has criticised a draft code of practice on workplace bullying, claiming small businesses will be unable to introduce some of its proposals.

 

The model code of practice is part of a set of rules to be introduced under the harmonisation of national occupational health and safety laws.

 

Under the code, bullying is defined as “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.”

 

The draft code was open for public comment under December 16, attracting many submissions, including one from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

 

In its submission, ACCI argued the definition of bullying must include references to it being systematic.

 

“Any guidance needs to provide a clear delineation between feeling aggrieved, and what is systematic and systemic inappropriate behaviour,” ACCI said.

 

ACCI also objected to the code on the basis that smaller businesses would be unable to introduce some of the measures it proposes.

 

“Some SMEs cannot reasonably provide such things as worker opinion surveys, review procedures and a process for appeal of outcomes,” it said.

 

Martin Nally, managing director of hranywhere, says vague definitions of bullying make it tricky for employers, particularly start-ups.

 

“If someone feels bullied or harassed, then they are… It’s really up to the individual how they feel and that’s a really important distinction to make,” Nally told StartupSmart.

 

“Small businesses don’t have the rigour, nor do they probably have the focus, upon workplace standards.”

 

“They do run the risk of being seen to be bullying when they’re probably just putting people under pressure to get things done.”

 

“No matter what the size of the organisation, the responsibility – on the manager, the owner, the entrepreneur – is to mitigate the risk to the organisation.”

 

Master Builders Australia used its submission to call on Safe Work Australia to change the definition to distinguish bullying from poor management.

 

It should be noted that a code of practice is not a law, but defines responsibilities under the law.

 

A code of practice may be used by a court as evidence of what is known about a hazard, and what is reasonably practicable in terms of precautions.

 

Safe Work Australia says the draft code of practice is being revised following public comment.

 

Victoria is the only state where a prohibition on bullying is enshrined in criminal law. The legislation was introduced after the suicide of a 19-year-old girl, Brodie Panlock, in 2006.

 

Panlock was the victim of serious bullying by co-workers at her job in a Melbourne café. Four men were prosecuted under OHS law and fined a total of $335,000.