A cautionary tale from Australia regarding workplace bullying…

Australia is seeing a huge spike in workplace bullying claims but the majority fall short of qualifying.

Ian Forsyth of WorkSafe says this is due to “greater awareness about bullying and, in particular, to the case of 19-year-old waitress Brodie Panlock, who committed suicide in 2006 after being relentlessly bullied by four colleagues at a Hawthorn cafe.” The positive outcome is that legislation was enacted as a result of media pressure.  The downside is that despite all of the news coverage important information about workplace bullying was not absorbed by the public.

”I think what we are seeing is that the term bullying is being used quite loosely in the community now in many instances to describe something that has ‘gone against me’ or ‘that I haven’t liked’ or something that ‘I haven’t wanted to do’,” says Mr Forsyth.

”As a result, we are seeing a mismatch between what is being labelled bullying and what would really constitute bullying under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

”We’re certainly not saying that these people aren’t suffering from some form of ill treatment or some form of injustice or that they’re not genuinely feeling that they’ve been disadvantaged or put under pressure. But in the vast majority of incidents these types of behaviours which they might describe as bullying are not going to meet the criteria for us to investigate or prosecute.” [Sydney Morning Herald read more..]

The article goes on to say that many of the claims already fall under discrimination and other legislation currently in place.  Sadly the high pressure media attention here in the U.S. may create a similar situation.  Countless articles about workplace bullying here in the U.S. all too often relate unscientific survey numbers and tell victims’ horrific stories without the acknowledgment that many can already addressed under discrimination or physical harassment legislation already in place.   Or, that it may be possible to file a lawsuit as an IIED claim.  This is great for lobbyists wishing to pass a bill but questionable when it comes to what is ethically best for everyone who will be impacted.  And, that would all of us, including advocates like myself, who work or own businesses.

It’s time for each of us to speak up and add our own concerns to the dialog. Journalists reporting on pending legislation in the U.S. all too often rely on a single solution with little or no critique.  The problem with that type of approach is that it subverts the democratic process and serves narrowly focused interests as opposed to addressing all of our concerns.  Crafting strong laws is something that legislators are charged to do and remains each of our right as citizens.  Why hand over concessions in the very first draft of a bill?

Personally, I am interested in collaborating with current advocates across America (many of whom I know and have developed relationships with) so as to strengthen pending legislation [see text of sample billnot ditch it — since that is the only way I personally feel comfortable supporting it.  Time will tell if that is something they are open to or not but in the meantime please share your thoughts, arguments and ideas here or email them to OurBullyPulpit@gmail.com

Many thanks,


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