'And now he's accusing me of workplace bullying!' Phil has been acting different lately. He seems tired and is less interested in work. Phil may have underlying mental health issues affecting his judgment and has filed a workplace bullying complaint. Here’s what you need to know!

According to the 2017 Snapshot of the Australian Workplace, workplace bullying has doubled in the last 12 months. It’s highly possible ‘perceived bullying’ triggered by underlying mental health issues in workers, an increasingly common problem faced by employers today, contributes to this statistic.   

Joe Murphy, Managing Director – National Workplace, Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors knows the mere utter of ‘bullying’ sends shivers down the spines of HR practitioners and employers across the country.

“This is not because the thought of someone being bullied creates an immediate deep concern, but because the ‘bullying’ card is rolled out all too often in the workplace,” says Joe.  

Employee mental ill-health
One in five Australian employee’s report they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months. Managing employees who are experiencing stress, anxiety or some form of mental health condition is a shared challenge for employers, HR and people managers.

Trying to work out what causes mental ill-health in employees is difficult and fraught with risk. Employers often feel paralysed by indecision when faced with an employee whose behaviour has changed and become a cause of concern.

A sensitive situation can rapidly escalate and claims against the business can occur, including workers compensations, discrimination or ‘perceived bullying’ and harassment.

Managing perceived bullying
“Overuse of the term ‘bullying’ has had the unfortunate effect of causing practitioners to first ask: ‘Is it really?’ And it can lead to the poor management of a complaint at the front end of a process, tainting an investigation and sometimes the outcome too!” says Joe.

“Often the most important aspect of a complaint is how you respond to it in the preliminary stages. The first rule is ‘Treat every complaint as a serious complaint and respond accordingly.”

Here are Joe’s top five tips on how to correctly respond to a workplace bullying claim:

1. Treat the complainant with respect and ensure they understand you are taking their complaint seriously.

2. Follow all reasonable leads during an investigation. If you ignore aspects of the claim, this can later result in a flawed and liable response.

3. Conduct the investigation as quickly as possible. However, do not compromise integrity for speed.

4. Make sure respondents are given sufficient information to ensure they can adequately respond to allegations made against them. This means dates, times, locations, people present and anything the respondent is alleged to have said should be put in direct speech and not general terms.

5. It’s important that both the complainants and respondents are made aware of the outcome of the claim. 
“Overuse of the term ‘bullying’ has had the unfortunate effect of causing practitioners to first ask: ‘Is it really?’”