Safe Work Australia releases bullying Code of Practice

Posted on 05 September 2013

On 3 June 2013, to support the model Work Health and Safety Act, Safe Work Australia (SWA) released the redraft model Code of Practice for Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying for public comment. The draft model Code of Practice is accompanied by a Workers Guide to managing workplace bullying.

Under section 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (WHS) employers are required to provide employees with a safe and healthy workplace. As workplace bullying is considered a psychological hazard under the WHS Act, the draft Code of Practice is designed to provide guidance for persons conducting a business or undertaking and managers on how to prevent workplace bullying and how to respond if it does occur.

Under the Code of Practice, workplace bullying is defined as "repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety". Examples of behaviour will include the following:

  • abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • continuously and deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level
  • denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources such that it has a detriment to the worker
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to deliberately inconvenience a particular worker or workersexcessive scrutiny at work.

The Code of Practice provides that the primary duty of a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU) includes ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, that risks to the physical and psychological health of workers arising from the work are properly managed. The risks of workplace bullying can be eliminated or minimised by creating a work environment where everyone treats each other with dignity and respect. It is best dealt with by taking a preventative approach which includes the following steps:

  • early identification of unreasonable behaviour and situations likely to increase the risk of bullying (this will include consultation with workers and other duty holders);
  • implementing control measures to prevent the risks and respond to workplace bullying, and
  • monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the control measures.

Once proper processes and procedures have been put into place it is important for a person conducting a business or undertaking to respond as early as possible as soon as a supervisor, manager or business owner becomes aware there is a problem. The draft Code of Practice offers some principles to guide business owners through the process of handling reports of bullying. The principles include the following:

  • Acting promptly;
  • Treating matters seriously;
  • Maintaining confidentiality;
  • Ensuring procedural fairness;
  • Impartiality;
  • Supporting all parties;
  • Do not victimise a complainant;
  • Communicate process and outcomes; and
  • Keep adequate records.

A Consultation Regulation Impact Statement on the model Code will also be released for comment once it is approved by the Office of Best Practice Regulation. Submissions on the draft Code of Practice closed on Monday 15 July 2013 at 5:00pm AEST.

It is extremely important for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to understand the Code once implemented as it provides a framework to educate employers & employees about inappropriate behaviours that are categorised as bullying which, in turn, will assist in eradicating the prevalence of bullying in the workplace. PCBU's need to be fully aware of their obligations under the Code as once it is published it can and will be relied upon by the prosecutors in Work Health and Safety prosecutions as evidence of whether or not a duty or obligation under this Act has been complied with.

In such prosecutions the court may have regard to the code as evidence of what is known about a hazard or risk, risk assessment or risk control to which the code relates, and may rely on the code in determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code relates.