Bullying, Discrimination and Harassment Part 2: Why managers need to act and what to do

In this Part Two of Two we examine why managers need to act and what to do to prevent bullying, discrimination and harassment in the workplace.


Grounds of bullying, harassment and discrimination

We have discussed the definitions of workplace bullying, discrimination and harassment in detail in Part 1: Defining the issues.  What makes this behaviour against the law is understood by reference to what we call “grounds”, which are enshrined in Federal and State legislation.

Examples of grounds include behaviour that intimidates or humiliates, discrimination due to gender, disability, marital status, age, pregnancy, religion, ethnic background, sexuality and physical features are all included in legislation.

Managers must act to educate employees about these grounds, about why it is important not to bully, harass or discriminate and about what to do if they are the recipients of this poor behaviour.

Actions by employees which break these laws could leave managers and company directors liable.


Vicarious liability

[Refer: Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission]

Employers are responsible for acts of discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, victimisation, and racial and religious vilification by their employees or agents which occur in the workplace or in connection with a person’s employment, unless they can show they have taken reasonable precautions to prevent such acts.

This is known as vicarious liability.

For example, an employer could be legally liable for a complaint of racial discrimination if management knew about the problem and did nothing to prevent or respond to it.

A person who discriminates against, sexually harasses, or vilifies another person in the workplace or in connection with their employment may also be individually liable for their behaviour.

It is also against the law to authorise or assist another person in discriminating against or sexually harass someone. This means a person must not ask, instruct or encourage anyone else to undertake these actions.


Preventative action

The best way to safeguard employees and your organisation is to provide awareness training for the entire workforce. In addition contact officers should be trained and appointed to assist with the provision of advice should an issue arise.

Most importantly, all employees should be encouraged to make a complaint internally or externally without fear.  Exposing these issues and dealing with them at the earliest possible opportunity will support a positive workplace culture.

If you have issues or concerns about bullying, discrimination and harassment in the workplace or wish to introduce a preventative program or workshop for employees, contact Intrepidus Human Resource Consulting today for a free initial consultation.


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Intrepidus Human Resource Consulting

Intrepidus is a human resources and industrial relations consultancy based out of Melbourne. We help clients with difficult people issues, HR & IR strategy, and more. If you want to find out how we assist with workplace issues, you can contact us at info@intrepidus.com.au  or give us a ring on +61 401 716 818.