Anti-bullying seminars strike a chord

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Recent seminars for aged care nurses on anti-bullying strategies proved very popular.

The July seminars, presented by the NSWNMA, were fully booked out at eight locations, including Parramatta and Springwood in the Blue Mountains. We know that bullying is widespread in aged care, affecting 77 percent of respondents to a survey earlier this year.

Some of the feedback for the seminars: ‘Very helpful’, ‘brilliant’, ‘excellent and informative’, ‘a great session that covered all the important issues’, ‘loads of information’, ‘very useful’, ‘made the boring parts interesting’, ‘fantastic, thank you for providing this course locally – I would appreciate other similar courses’.

Springwood bullying forum

Nurses at the Springwood seminar decide to ‘keep calm and stop bullying at work’.

Lyn Flanagan and Katherine Rynne of the NSWNMA told the seminars all about the new national legislation, introduced by the previous Labor government, which took effect on January 1 this year and which empowers the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to deal with bullying in some workplaces. The laws apply to most aged care providers but not state government organisations such as NSW Health.

The laws are designed to allow workers affected by bullying to apply directly to the FWC for a fast hearing of their complaint. The commission can order that bullying must stop and an employer must develop policy and provide training to combat bullying. However, the commission cannot impose financial penalties or order compensation.

Anti_Bullying seminar group 17_7_14

The Parramatta seminar audience.

NSWNMA Industrial Officer Katherine Rynne said bullying was defined as unreasonable behaviour that creates a risk to health and safety by causing anxiety, depression and stress. “Bullying covers a range of behaviour including – but not limited to – victimising, humiliating, intimidating and threatening behaviour,” she told members at the Parramatta seminar.

“Bullying has to have happened more than once. It cannot be a one-off incident. There must be a risk that the bullying will continue because these laws are aimed at stopping future bullying. They are not aimed at punishment or compensation for past bullying.”

Katherine said the laws apply to all employees, including management, as well as volunteers. “Bullying does not include reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

“It is reasonable for managers to give fair and constructive feedback on a worker’s performance. It is not reasonable, however, to give someone a dressing down in the corridor in front of residents and other workers.

Katherine Rynne talks at the antin_bullying seminar at Unions NSW 17_7_14

Katherine Rynne addressing the seminar.

“If you work with someone with a personal hygiene problem it is reasonable to take that person aside and have a conversation about it. It is not reasonable to hold your nose every time you walk past them.”

NSWNMA organiser Lynette Flanagan presented a case study of a recent bullying complaint to the FWC. The case involved an Association member who was being bullied by another worker.

“Our member worked in a dementia unit. Her co-worker would come into the unit when residents were settled and calm and deliberately disturb them to the point of agitation. Then she would leave, while our member struggled to resettle the residents,” Lynette said.

The member complained to management but they took no effective action.

“The bully had a close relationship with management,” Lynette said. “Our member developed extreme anxiety and depression. She felt that no one was listening to her or believed her and that contributed to the breakdown of her health.”

Lynnette addresses the group at Unions NSW 17_7_14

Lyn Flanagan addressing the seminar.

The member called the Association, which helped her complain to the FWC. “FWC ordered mediation and things improved for a while. But bullying started again so we went back to the commission. They called the employer in to explain their failure to address bullying. The employer was very clearly told they had to take action and the bullying stopped.”

Lynette, who previously worked as an aged care Assistant in Nursing, said it is never too early to call the NSWNMA for advice on bullying.

“It is wise to get us to help because there are a lot of forms to fill out,” she said. “The complaint must come from one or more individuals being bullied. We cannot make the complaint on your behalf but we can advise you on how to deal with the problem and help you lodge a complaint.”

Anti_bullying seminar group shot #2

Are you being bullied?

  • Keep a written record of all bullying incidents including dates, times and witnesses.
  • You must give your employer a chance to put a stop to the bullying before the Fair Work Commission will accept your complaint. Follow your employer’s policy and procedures on bullying to lodge a complaint.
  • If your employer does not have specific bullying policies and no clear protocols on how to respond, call the NSWNMA for advice.
  • If management fails to act on your complaint or is unable to stop the bullying, you can complain directly to the commission. The NSWNMA can help you lodge a complaint.
  • The commission must start to deal with your application within 14 days.
  • It can arrange a mediation session involving an external mediator. If bullying continues the case can go to a hearing where you may be required to give evidence.
  • The commission can issue orders against the employer as well as your co-workers and even visitors to the workplace.
  • It can order the employer to put a stop to the bullying, monitor the employer’s conduct and direct the employer to provide information and support to staff.

What is bullying?

Bullying at work is repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Examples include:

  • Verbal abuse.
  • Putting someone down.
  • Spreading rumours or innuendo about someone.
  • Interfering with someone’s personal property or work equipment.
  • Deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities.
  • Deliberately denying access to information or other resources.
  • Withholding information that is vital for effective work performance.
  • Deliberately changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to inconvenience a particular worker or workers.

Bullying resources

An amendment to the Fair Work Act which passed into law in June 2013 enables the Fair Work Commission to deal with complaints of workplace bullying as from January 1, 2014.

The following papers from the ACTU, ANMF Victorian Branch and the ACTU’s Safeatwork.org.au provide information about workplace bullying and the new Bill.

WorkCover also has a page on workplace bullying and outlines definitions, WorkCover’s powers and includes the WorkCover bullying complaint form.

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1 COMMENT

  1. In 30 years of nursing I’ve never seen bullying handled satisfactorily by any employer. Doesn’t matter how much ‘awareness’ is out there. One of the problems stems from whatever twit bought the definitive clause that bullying is “anything that makes you feel bullied” into the picture. Not saying the definition is wrong, but it is wholly impractical, obscure, subjective and vague from an administrative and disciplinary perspective. Another problem (this one comes straight from my own experience as a senior hospital manager) is that nurses aren’t that shy about complaining about one another. Anyone that works in management will tell you that they receive endless emails, notes and face to face episodes from nurses only too willing to complain and bitch about their colleagues. It’s no different in regards to bullying. I got sucked in for a long time. Nurses would come to me, complain that they were being bullied, I’d take down all the details. I would advise them that I would meet with the offender and discuss the complaint with them and get their version of events and we would go from there. On every occasion they would say, ‘oh no, I don’t want to cause any trouble for anyone’ and withdraw the complaint there and then. No one seemed to understand that there has to be an element of justice about a bullying complaint (100% of which seemed to be simple personality clashes to me): you can’t make an ‘anonymous’ complaint and expect punitive action to be taken without the alleged offender being given a chance to respond to the accusation.

    These days, if someone comes to me with a complaint, I write it down, tell the person complaining “leave it with me”. A week later, I pull it out, catch up with them and ask if they are happy for me to sit down with the perpetrator and have them respond to the complaint. Always, on every occasion the nurse says “Oh, no, it’s fine, tear it up”.

    So I generally don’t take claims of bullying in nursing seriously. It’s a high stress environment, the expectations that you perform to a set standard are rigid and the cost of not performing to that standard high. People get stressed, tempers flare. Get over it, it’s rarely personal. Nursing just isn’t the flowers and roses, hand-holding ministering angel career it might have been in the ’30s. If you don’t like it and feel as if your life is hell at work, leave the job or leave the profession. This is Australia, there’s plenty of work out there for everyone.

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