CLAIMS throughout the year that bullying marks the greatest threat to workplace efficiency and harmony in law firms have been franked.
Statistics gathered by the NSW Law Society in the 2003 edition of its Remuneration and Work Conditions Report show more lawyers than ever are prone to being bullied, despite a simultaneous drop in the experience of discrimination.
Released earlier this month, the findings add significant weight to calls from the Young Lawyers (YL) and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) committees for bullying to join harassment and discrimination as potential breeds of professional misconduct.
Bullying was by far the most prevalent form of anti-social behaviour experienced by respondents, with 29 and 21.5 per cent of males and females respectively claiming they had been exposed to workplace intimidation. Conversely, only 13.8 per cent of women and 7.7 per cent of men responding were discrimination victims.
Prior to the release of this year’s report, many, including YL bullying taskforce head Amber Cerny, predicted bullying would be most commonly experienced. A vindicated Cerny said the latest figures consolidated a trend since 2001, which tracked a steady climb in harassment and bullying, but a decrease in the incidence of discrimination.
Despite mounting evidence that bullying is a primary concern, the society last month declined a recommendation for it to be established as a head of professional misconduct. The strong-arm approach — infamously adopted by the NSW Attorney-General — to eradicating discrimination and harassment had “helped bring down” complaints in those areas, Cerny claimed.
“The overall strategy of legislative amendment and the controversy that surrounded it — as well as mandatory CLE — has had an impact on harassment and discrimination in the profession,” she said. “It is a shame [the Law Society] didn’t consider amending the legislation within the recent package to combat bullying.”
Although not surprised by the increase in bullying, Cerny admitted to being taken aback by the number of victims who were dissatisfied with the way in which their complaints were handled.
Less than half of the survey group “knew what to do” or “who to talk to” in the event of experiencing discrimination, harassment or bullying. Further, only 41.7 per cent of victims reported the incident, 80.7 per cent of which said they were dissatisfied with the means in which their complaint was dealt.
“This figure shows that there is a lot of work firms need to do to get their internal processes right,” said Cerny, who regretted the survey did not press dissatisfied respondents to reveal how they pursued the matter, if at all. “The greatest interest is in outcomes. So far the anecdotal evidence shows that the most popular form of action is for people to leave their jobs.”
With the Law Society not due to reconsider categorising bullying as professional misconduct until September 2004, Cerny said YL is currently focusing on developing an intensive survey of the phenomenon.