A recent SMH article describes the problem of bullying and work related psychological injuries with resulting workers compensation claims;
Conflicts between employer and employee may in some respects be the more difficult to resolve for the employer as any internal procedure may be perceived by the employee as lacking impartiality and the involvement of a trade union representative may be seen by the employer as not only lacking neutrality but threatening. In such situations there is little option other than to engage a neutral third party who will be acceptable to both employer and employee. A process facilitated by an independent third party must be perceived by the parties as fair, objective, confidential and independent of any workplace disciplinary or grievance procedures.
The Cost of Workplace Conflict
Conflict in the workplace is one of the main causes of work related stress resulting in employee absence and workers
compensation payouts. Workplace bullying is a major stress factor and needs to be recognized and dealt with effectively and
quickly. Research undertaken by WorkSafe Victoria found ;
* Work-related stress is the second most compensated illness/injury in Australia
* Roughly double the amount of compensation is paid to workers suffering from stress compared to other injuries.
* Of 13 identified " key stress risks " bullying and interpersonal relationships were in the top 5.
At the end of this page we have included some case reports that must be a wake up call to any employer.
Ask your broker about the premiums you can expect to pay for workers compensation insurance after one or two employee stress claims.
Staff Turnover and Underperformance
Research indicates that more performance problems result from strained workplace relationships than from deficits in skills or
motivation. Exit interview data revealed that 50% plus of voluntary resignations relate directly to unresolved workplace conflict
and workplace conflict is a decisive factor in 90% plus of involuntary terminations of employment excluding redundancies.
Managing workplace conflicts is one of the most important factors determining an organization's costs, efficiency and employee
Conflicts between employees should be capable of resolution inhouse. Much depends on the culture of the organization, whether there is openness and confidence in the communication between workers at all levels and whether there is an effective chain of supervision and command all the way from the shop floor to senior management. The prevalence of cases of bullying in the workplace resulting in WorkCover workers compensation claims against employers is evidence that not all employers have these necessary organizational structures in place.
The need for true impartiality often excludes inhouse HR departments from being involved in mediating issues that could result in disciplinary proceedings against an employee involved in the conflict or indeed against a superior responsible for a failure of supervision or a neglect to deal with the problem before it had escalated.
Prevention of interpersonal conflicts arising or dealing with them at the lowest possible level within the organization must always be the best advice but where this is not possible and the judgement is made inhouse that the problem is capable of escalating, impartial external mediation offers a cost effective procedure that can protect the organization against potential claims by employees. Mediation needs to be an integral part of any modern business manual or workplace agreement. Mediation also plays an important role in many return to work plans and may be essential where the absence from work is the result of workplace conflict.
If your organization is struggling with the sort of issues discussed above or if you are an employer aware of such ongoing problems and in particular if you suspect that there is a workplace bullying situation you must act to deal with this problem which is a clear health and safety issue. You can contact us at any time in complete confidence and without obligation for a free telephone consultation and to explore what may be offered by Coffs Harbour Mediation ( CHM ).
Misconceptions about mediation.
As commercial and workplace mediators we don't only deal with conflicts when they reach crisis point. Most commercial and other organisations live with issues that cannot be raised in meetings or between individuals including managers at every level of seniority. These are issues that fester into intractable taboos and may continue for years as an impediment to openness and effective teamwork. Some of these issues are more important than others and may ultimately end in open conflicts and relationship breakdowns.
A skilled mediator with experience in the commercial world can assist you to deal with the underlying and unspoken interpersonal problems that may already be impacting on your profitability and may eventually threaten the business itself.
Some case reports;
Swan v Monash Law Book Co-operative  VSC 326 (Supreme Court of Victoria, Dixon J, 26 June 2013)
Ms Swan alleged that the negligence of the defendant caused her injury by exposing her to an unsafe workplace in which she was subject to bullying, harassing, and intimidating conduct. She had complained to her employers of the behavior of her manager and although the board discussed the issue at length they failed to take appropriate action.
The bullying behavior continued and Ms Swan suffered psychological injury that the court compensated in the princely sum of $600,000.
The case illustrates not only the large potential damages awards but the result of a failure to take effective action once management become aware of the bullying.
Apart from the award of $250,000 for psychological injury this case illustrated a point that should frighten any employer. Ms Willett was a senior constable with the Victoria police. She was subjected to inappropriate behavior and was ostracized by work colleagues. The problems seem to have started with a rumor that she had “slept with her boss to get her job”.
The sting in the tail is that Ms Willett failed to make a formal complaint to her employers. Had she done so the bullying may have been dealt with and stopped. The employers counsel argued that failure to make that complaint must be treated as contributory negligence and the damages award should be reduced accordingly. The judges of the Supreme Court of Victoria disagreed and one may wonder as to the apportionment of responsibility in that case.
Oyston v St Patrick’s College (2013) NSWSCA 135
Jazmine Oyston, was a student at St Patrick's College, Campbelltown from 2002 to February 2005. In 2007, she brought a claim in negligence alleging that she had suffered psychological harm as a result of bullying by other students at the College.
The psychological damage was such that it was a factor in the student developing an eating disorder and some suicidal ideation. The full extent of the debate about the extent of the harm suffered can only be gleaned from reading the case report but what is significant is that the college did have a detailed anti bullying policy and did take bullying seriously. However even with an anti bullying policy in place and attempts to deal with a widespread and serious problem the college was still found liable and had to pay substantial damages.
There are many more cases and links to some of them are provided ;