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Bullying doesn't only happen on the school playground... And if it happens in your workplace you could land up in hot water!

by , 30 April 2015
We usually think of a children's playground when we hear the term bullying. But, workplace bullying refers to tactics used by managers and other employees against juniors or peers.

It's a pattern of behaviour, often coming from a position of power or perceived power. It can be difficult to identify bullying in the workplace. This is because some of the bullying behaviour is subtle and often takes place when the bully and his target are alone. Bullying is more about the bully than the target.

But why do you have to worry about bullying? It's simple really. It's your legal obligation! And if you don't, your employee can get a protection order against you, their abusive colleague or one of your managers. This means the employee can't come to work!

Keep reading to find out more...

How the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 affects bullying in your workplace 
The Protection from Harassment Act passed into law on 27 April 2013. Since the Act applies to everyone, it affects your workplace, managers and personnel. So you must take reasonable steps to make sure your employees have a safe working environment. It must also be free from any form of harassment. It's up to you to make sure none of your managers, employees or groups of employees take part in bullying. If they do, you have to take steps to stop it. For example, investigating complaints and taking disciplinary action if necessary.
If you don't, you'll find yourself in hot water in one of these three ways…
Three ways you'll be held liable for bullying
  • If your employees cause someone harm, loss or damage through their own fault during their normal work you could be liable. This is vicarious liability. 
  • The Employment Equity Act says you're liable for your employees' acts of discrimination. This includes harassment and bullying. To avoid this, you must prove you took reasonable steps to prevent the harassment. You can do this not only by having a suitable policy in place, but also by investigating every complaint of harassment and taking action against the bullies. 
  • The Supreme Court of Appeal says that you owe a duty of care to your employees. This means you don't just have to provide a safe physical working environment, but you must also take reasonable steps to ensure it's free from harassment.

Your employee's first action is to lodge a complaint about the bully. This should be in your grievance procedure. Your employee can write a letter to any manager in the company explaining what's happening. He can only approach the courts after he tries to resolve the problem through internal processes and hasn't had any success.
So here's how to make sure you stop workplace bullying in its tracks.

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Seven ways to nip bullying in the bud
  1. Have an anti-bullying policy or organisational statement in place. It must say your company won't tolerate bullying.
  2. Have clear procedures for employees to lay complaints. Also give them guidelines to tell their story. 
  3. Create an open environment for employees to talk about their concerns. 
  4. Take immediate action to investigate claims of bullying or other forms of harassment.
  5. Put bullying and other forms of harassment in your Code of Conduct. Let your employees know what actions you'll take against bullies in your company. 
  6. Teach your managers to know and understand the impacts of their actions. 
  7. Support employees who are targets of workplace bullies, by including counselling in your employee assistance programme.

Bullying can be traumatic for employees, so you need to make it easy for the targets. Take their complaints seriously and act immediately. Don't let it escalate because the Act gives employees the right to take you to court for not doing anything about their complaint!

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