PKF Australia

Accountants and Business Advisers

Bullying and Harassment in the workplace

Bullying and Harassment in the workplace

More and more organisations are being required to take a holistic approach to the way they manage the risks associated with inappropriate behaviour by employees in the workplace.  This is particularly relevant to behaviour that constitutes bullying or harassment (including sexual harassment) in the workplace.

Recently, Courts in Australia have been taking notice of the significant psychological effects that workplace bullying can have on an employee. As a result we are seeing much larger compensation and damages payouts to employees who have been affected by these types of behaviour in the workplace. Some recent cases have seen compensation and or damages payouts of anywhere from $100,000 up to more than $470,000.

Manage the risk

To successfully manage the risk presented by inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, organisations should ensure that:

  • An appropriate policy is in place having regard to Australian Discrimination Law;
  • Procedures to deal with these types of behaviours are implemented;
  • Employees are adequately trained in relation to what constitutes bullying and harassing behaviour and what to do if they observe or experience this type of behaviour;
  • Reported incidents are investigated;
  • Any investigation conducted is thorough and not just a token effort to appease the complainant;
  • Ensuring that whistleblowers are identified and supported.

Failures by organisations to effectively respond to these types of incidents may lead to significant financial and reputational damage.

While there are obvious regulatory and legislative imperatives that provide a framework for a bullying and harassment free workplace, it is increasingly incumbent upon business leaders to demonstrate that they “walk the walk” on bullying and harassment in the workplace.

What role does organisational culture play?

The culture of an organisation, or more correctly the ethical culture of an organisation has been the focus of many recent discussions in relation to the prevention of misconduct and fraud within an organisation. While an organisation’s policies and procedures indicate what directors and senior management want done, it is the culture of the organisation which influences what is actually done. This culture is strongly influenced by the ethical tone set by its leaders.

Leaders need to be clear in the messages they deliver to other employees within the organisation about acceptable behaviour in the workplace; behave in a manner consistent with the values espoused by the organisation; act quickly, fairly but decisively to deal with bullying and harassment; reward ethical behaviour in the workplace; and not contribute to a culture which in effect “turns a blind eye” or appears to promote unquestioning acceptance of a mentality that “this is the way we do things around here”.

Preventing occurrences of bullying and harassment in the workplace needs to be the focus of business leaders. Underpinning the framework of policy and procedures by promoting a sound ethical culture will provide an organisation with better mechanisms to reduce the incidence of aberrant behaviour.      

For further information or assistance to effectively manage your organisation’s risk environment, contact our Forensic and Risk Services team on (02) 8346 6000 or click here.


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