workplace bullying – the definitions – the legal stuff

Proving that you are a victim of workplace bullying is complicated to say the least – it is a complete and utter mine field.

In Australia – proving liability is the more ‘legal’ term. Essentially, being able to prove that the bully (or your workplace) is liable for your illness.

It’s not impossible, but it is a difficult case to fight and win.

In saying that, please don’t let the fact that it’s difficult put you off. Somewhere in you lies the courage to fight and that is where I am right now – fighting for my own truth and hoping like hell that justice prevails.

Workplace bullying is real, and it DID happen to me. It has cost me more than I could ever have imagined – my health, a job that I loved and it has compromised the person I was, it has played havoc in my life and in the lives of my loved ones. Because of that, I will continue to tell my truth until I get what I deem to be a fair outcome.

The internet is full of resources, articles and research reports on this very topic. However, laws vary in different countries, and in Australia, it differs from state to state.

When Googling workplace bullying the most obvious place to start (for me anyway), was Wikipedia. In short, Wikipedia states that “workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others that causes either physical or emotional harm”. This is by no means the definition of all definitions, as there are literally dozens, of differing definitions.

In South Australia, Safework Australia – “dealing with workplace bullying – a workers guide” describes workplace bullying as having the ability to “adversely affect the psychological and physical health of a person. Workplace bullying is a psychological hazard that has the potential to harm a person, and it also creates a psychological risk as there is a possibility that a person may be harmed if exposed to it.” It further states that workplace bullying is “repeated and unreasonable behavior directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety”.

Now I realise that you may be reading this blog from your device from anywhere in this wide world, so my suggestion to you is, if you are looking to source information relevant to your own situation, start by locating the appropriate information in your state or country. However, if you have difficulty in doing this, please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to help you.

So, I guess the next question you may have is: what are my choices?

This is a loaded question as each person will have their own unique, individual situation. Of course, I won’t be able to pin point your exact situation or know the details of the events that have lead you to question what your choices might be, but what I have done is come up with two basic, possible scenarios and what my advice to you would be.

In saying that, this is definitely just advice, I am by no means a professional, but I have learnt a lot through my experience. However, I cannot tell you what to do. In saying that, if you do have questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email and I will be happy to talk you through some options and provide you with some further information.

Also, these scenarios will also depend on what type of employer you have (private or government / large or small organisation) and the policies and procedures your employer may or may not have in place.

OK, so here goes…

Scenario 1. You are a relatively new employee at your place of work (less than one year). You are being bullied at work and you recognised the signs quickly. You attempted to stop the bullying behavior towards you and the bullying did not stop. You made a complaint and the bullying did not stop. GET OUT OF THERE! GET OUT, DO IT NOW! Start looking for other work and leave as soon as you find a new position.
This is important because:

a) (Hopefully) the damage to your mental health has been minimal and finding a new (and better) place to work will assist in your recovery along with assistance from your doctor / mental health specialists.

b) Because of the bullying you won’t have invested too much of yourself into the role yet and leaving will be easy (and most likely a huge relief) as you won’t have much to lose in terms of leave entitlements etc.

c) Your career and reputation are at stake.

I’ll add that I received some legal advice and was told that sometimes the best road to recovery is to move on. As difficult as that might seem right now, in six months’ time you will thank yourself.

Scenario 2. You are a long-term employee, you have invested yourself in your organisation, your role and your career. You have accumulated substantial entitlements over your years and may be close to retirement, long service leave or even retrenchment. You attempted to stop the bullying behavior towards you and the bullying did not stop. You made a complaint and the bullying did not stop. DO NOT RESIGN! PLEASE, JUST DON’T!

This is important because:

a) That is exactly what your employer wants you to do. You have become a liability and you are creating way too much paperwork for them.

b) The bully wins.

c) You deserve and are entitled to receive the benefits you have worked so hard for.

Next, go and see your doctor as soon as possible to discuss what your options are.

Speaking with your doctor or mental health professional is important whether you fall into scenario 1, scenario 2 or somewhere in between. Your doctor will keep case notes regarding your discussions about work and what has been happening and this will become evidence.

Your doctor should be aware of the laws in your state or country and be able to advise you of your options.

I’ll also add that finding the right doctor is extremely important as they will have to advocate for you should the need arise. If your doctor disagrees with you, is not supportive of you, or if they are not sure of the laws or policies surrounding workplace bullying and the effects on mental health, find a new doctor.

Most importantly, surround yourself with your people, your tribe. Ensure that you never feel alone. Understandably, there will be good days and bad days and most likely there will be more bad days, with a few good days scattered in between. Having a good support system in place, your medical team, your trusted family and friends will be your biggest supporters.

Their advice to you and belief that you can overcome this crisis will be some of the best medicine you will receive. As even in crisis, there is always LOVE – sounds corny I know, but we must think back to that bully who sought to bring us down and wonder why they wished for another person to suffer. After all, those who love themselves do not seek to hurt other people.

Further to this, as cited from Brandi Neal’s article “4 Signs You’re Being Bullied At Work & What To Do About It” … “because targets tend to be more empathetic, and have higher emotional intelligence than those who are bullying them, they are less likely to be confrontational…”. This says to me that bully’s prey on those whom they wish they could be more like.

So, if you are loved, and I am sure you are – lean on that love as it will slowly help you get through this.

My best and warmest wishes to you all xx