Teachers bullying teachers

We mentioned in our Top Risks for 2014 article last week that bullying amongst staff made a surprise appearance at No.4 in an impromptu risk survey, with 38% of respondents identifying workplace bullying to be a key risk within their schools.

So it is worth noting that from January 1 2014, new laws will allow all workers to take workplace bullying complaints to the Federal industrial tribunal, the Fairwork Commission.

Under the changes to the Fair Work Act, any worker who reasonably believes he or she has been bullied can seek an order from the Commission for an order for the bullying to stop.

Despite the Commission being able to award compensation, if an employer does not act to stop the bullying (after an order has been made) workers can apply to the Federal Court, which can impose fines of up to $51,000 on a organisation and $10,200 on an individual.

What does this mean for schools?

The new laws will provide more scope for the Commission and Federal Court to deal with bullying complaint. They will also make it easier for workers to lodge a complaint to an industrial umpire.

One major ramification of the new laws is that they will cover all workers. This means that beyond employees, they will cover people on work experience, contractors, volunteers and even school board members.

This means that schools will need to ensure:

  • they have a documented workplace bullying policy that covers all workers and clearly spells out what types of bullying behaviour is unacceptable.
  • the policy is effectively implemented (which includes training of staff and maintenance of records of this training).
  • the policy is easily accessible for all staff to reference if required.
  • an internal grievance procedure is in place which allows staff to voice their concerns with respect to bullying without fear of recrimination.
  • bullying complaints when made are properly investigated and managed.
  • records of bullying incidents are properly recorded and corrective actions put into place where necessary.

Ultimately bullying in the workplace is a cultural issue that needs to be dealt with swiftly by school leaders. Turning a blind eye to bullying is as good as saying “its ok to bully at our school”. It sends the wrong message to staff and to students.

To manage workplace bullying effectively a school needs its staff bully policies to be fully integrated with other human resources and workplace safety policies and procedures such as those dealing with acceptable conduct and standards of behaviour (often encapsulated in a Code of Conduct), social media, stress and the management of internal grievance, or EEO and anti-discrimination issues.


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