There have been many calls in Australia for a national definition of workplace bullying. Apparently the definition below that has applied in OHS legislation for over ten years in Victoria is insufficient:
“Repeated unreasonable behaviour directed toward a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”
The definition above was the one used in the first draft Code of Practice on Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying produced by Safe Work Australia in September 2011.
The definition was questioned by Moira Rayner, as a representative of the Law Institute of Victoria, at recent public hearings into workplace bullying. Researchers said that a lack of a national definition is a major reason that research in workplace bullying has been so thin.
A quick survey of workplace bullying definitions in Australia is listed below:
“Unreasonable and inappropriate workplace behaviour includes bullying, which comprises behaviour which intimidates, offends, degrades, insults or humiliates an employee possibly in front of co-workers, clients or customers and which includes physical or psychological behaviour.” Law Society of NSW
“…repeated unreasonable behaviour that could reasonably be considered to be humiliating, intimidating, threatening or demeaning to a person, or group of persons, which creates a risk to health and safety.” Comcare
“repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker.” (Source ACTUQ/QCCI/Qld Govt Dept of Workplace Health and Safety) via HREOC
A more international list of definitions is accessible through Wikipedia
The four definitions illustrate an important consideration. Is a definition written to facilitate prosecution or for prevention of harm?
Take, for example this definition included in Wikipedia but unable to be verified, at the moment:
“systematic aggressive communication, manipulation of work, and acts aimed at humiliating or degrading one or more individual that create an unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between bully and target(s), result in psychological consequences for targets and co-workers, and cost enormous monetary damage to an organization’s bottom line.”
This may serve the purposes of researchers but it is indecipherable to the business operator who is obliged to prevent this type of behaviour. Compare it to the WorkSafe definition and it is impractical gibberish.
It may be sufficient for researchers to accept the common elements of workplace bullying and construct research around them:
Most workplace bullying definitions included “unreasonable”, and this is where Moira Rayner stuck her first blow at the public hearings. Rayner stated that unreasonable is indefinable as it varies from person to person and that, to be applied, “unreasonable” needs case studies, examples and scenarios that provide clarity. The September 2011 Draft Code of Practice attempted this.
The “reasonable person” criterion may be a test applied in the Law but that is within the context of Court proceedings. Employers have an obligation to prevent “unreasonable” behaviour in order to, amongst other reasons, avoid court action. So is it possible to develop a better workplace bullying definition than the existing WorkSafe Victoria (and Safe Work Australia) one that is easily understood and applied in a workplace to prevent harm?