THE LAW Society of NSW has once again brought the issue of workplace bullying to the fore, launching a CD-ROM aimed at helping employees identify and deal with the behaviour.
The Society has for some time been under pressure from NSWYoung Lawyers and others to crack down on workplace bullying and to introduce measures that would put a bully’s practising certificate at risk.
The new CD-ROM includes examples of what is and is not acceptable.
NSW Law Society president Gordon Salier said that “while most of us are probably aware that aggressive or frightening behaviour is the mark of a bully, we are less likely to think of actions such as excluding people from work discussions or excessive work scrutiny as falling into this domain.”
In February this year, the Law Society’s Legal Workplace Committee began work on a response to complaints of bullying from some members of the profession.
One complaint described how a senior member of staff deliberately witheld work from a lawyer so the lawyer could not meet their budget and thus had to find another job, the Committee heard.
In another example, a senior member of staff repeatedly audited a lawyer’s files in order to find something upon which to justify terminating their employment.
The Law Society defines bullying as “the less favourable treatment of a person by another, or others, in the workplace which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice and which includes behaviour which can be physical or psychological in nature”.
“It is important that these unacceptable behaviours are spelt out,” Salier said. “Likewise, publicly belittling someone, nasty practical jokes, and even ignoring someone can constitute bullying.”
“On the other hand, we have attempted to make clear what behaviour is not considered bullying. Setting reasonable workplace goals, conducting reasonable supervisory practices with appropriate assessment, counselling and disciplinary procedures, is acceptable,” Salier said.
When the Legal Workplace Committee began work on the bullying project there was little case law in relation to the problem. There were some unfair dismissal claims and a small percentage of these matters involved law firms.
In June this year, as a result of a case decided by the Chief Industrial Magistrate, it became evident that employees who are bullied may lodge a complaint with WorkCover which could result in the prosecution of the employer for breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000.
The CD also details the emotional and financial costs of bullying to the profession.
The Law Society hopes the CD will help bring about a culture of zero tolerance of bullying in the legal profession.
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