Workplace harassment is defined in the Prevention of Workplace Harassment Code of Practice 2004 (the Code). You have a range of remedies if you have been subjected to repeated behaviour by your employer or co-worker, other than sexual harassment, that:
- is unwelcome and unsolicited;
- you consider to be offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening; and
- that a reasonable person would consider to be offensive, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.
Workplace harassment covers a wide range of behaviour and can include:
- abusing a person when others are present;
- repeated threats of dismissal or other severe punishment for no reason;
- constant ridicule and being put down;
- sabotage of a person’s work;
- maliciously excluding and isolating a person from workplace activities;
- persistent and unjustified criticisms, often about irrelevant or insignificant matters;
- humiliating a person through gestures, sarcasm, criticism and insults, often in front of customers, management or other workers; and
- spreading gossip or false, malicious rumours about a person with an intent to cause the person harm.
What is not workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment is not:
- a single incident of harassing type behaviour;
- acts of unlawful discrimination, vilification or sexual harassment (these are covered by Queensland or Federal anti-discrimination legislation);
- legitimate and reasonable management actions and business processes, such as actions taken to transfer, demote, discipline, retrench or dismiss a worker, provided these actions are conducted in a reasonable way (unless they are used primarily to offend, intimidate or threaten workers).
What obligations does your employer have?
Your employer is responsible for ensuring the workplace is free from harassment as part of complying with the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 (Qld). Employers are expected to prevent or control exposure to the risk of workplace harassment in consultation with workers. This involves:
- identifying and assessing hazards relating to harassment;
- implementing control measures (perhaps through education or information sessions); and
- reviewing the effectiveness of those measures.
How are complaints made?
If you believe you have been subject to workplace harassment, there are a number of courses of action open to you, some informal, some formal.
1. Internal remedies
1.1 Speaking to the person responsible
You may choose to take up the issue directly with the person you believe is harassing you, although whether this is a good idea will depend on your particular situation. You should be careful to approach the person and your grievance with them in a confidential, non-confrontational way, with a view to resolving the issue in an informal low-key manner.
1.2 Speaking to your human resources/ workplace safety representative
As your workplace is required to have in place policies and procedures for resolving complains, the person who is responsible for human resources or workplace safety should be able to inform you of what steps you need to take.
It is also advisable to seek the opinion of someone else in the workplace whom you trust and is relatively independent.
The informal procedure for resolution of complaints in your workplace may involve mediation between you, the person against whom you have a grievance and an impartial third party.
1.3 More serious complaints will be subject to a more formal procedure.
The procedure in place at your workplace to handle more serious complaints should involve:
- a formal reporting procedure;
- an investigation procedure;
- a complaint resolution procedure; and
- an appeals process.
The procedure should also ensure that the person alleged to have committed workplace harassment is presumed innocent until allegations are proven true; and that they are informed of all allegations and given an opportunity to explain their version of events.
2. External remedies
2.1 Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
You can complain to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 (Qld) where:
your complaint appears to fall within the definition of workplace harassment;
your complaint is in writing, including the WHSQ checklist which must be attached to the complaint; and
your complaint has been raised at the workplace and an attempt made to resolve the complaint internally. Information regarding the outcome of this step should be included in the written complaint.
If these requirements are met, and a health and safety risk of injury or illness from workplace harassment is likely to exist, an inspector may be assigned to investigate. The purpose of the investigation is to determine if the obligations of the employer under the Act are being met. WHSQ has no power to order compensation to be paid to you.
There is no set time period for lodging a complaint but you should do so as soon as reasonably possible after the internal complaints process has been finalised.
For more information on making a complaint to WHSQ, contact your local Department of Employment and Industrial Relations office. Office locations can be found at: http://www.deir.qld.gov.au/corporate/contactus/index.htm
2.2 WorkCover Queensland
If you have suffered some kind of physical, psychiatric or psychological injury as a result of your exposure to workplace harassment, you may apply to WorkCover Queensland for compensation.
The claim for compensation should be lodged as soon as possible after the injury occurred, but within at least 6 months of seeing a doctor about your injury.
For more information about lodging a workers compensation claim and details about how to do so (including the application form) please visit: http://www.workcover.qld.gov.au/claims/Claimshome/Statutoryclaims/Lodgingaclaim.html
2.3 Queensland Industrial Relations Commission
The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) can hear and determine issues concerning industrial matters. The QIRC can make any orders it sees fit in trying to resolve your dispute.
If you have resigned from your job due to workplace harassment, then the termination of employment may be considered a ‘constructive dismissal’ and unfair. This may then fall within the unfair dismissal provisions under the Industrial Relations Act 1999 (Qld).
Your application should be lodged with the QIRC registry in the relevant form and accompanied by the appropriate fee within 21 days from when you resigned.
Reinstatement of your job is the primary remedy in the QIRC. However, if the QIRC considers that reinstatement or re-employment is impracticable in the circumstances, then they can order that the employer pay you compensation.
More information can be found at: http://www.qirc.qld.gov.au/.
3. Discrimination or sexual harassment
If you believe that the behaviour to which you have been subject amounts to unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment, different laws apply. You may be able to lodge a complaint with either the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission or the Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. For more information about discrimination and sexual harassment, please see: Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission and Tribunal at www.adcq.qld.gov.au; and Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission at www.hreoc.gov.au.
Please contact QPILCH by:
E: email@example.comT: 07 3846 6317F: 07 3846 6311P: QPILCH, PO Box 3631, South Brisbane BC, Qld 4101
This factsheet is for general information purposes only. Independent legal advice should be sought for thorough advice on this area.
The Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House Incorporated (QPILCH) is an independent, not-for-profit community based legal service that coordinates the provision of pro bono legal services for individuals and community groups. QPILCH also provides direct services for disadvantaged and marginalised Queenslanders.
QPILCH gratefully acknowleges the funding provided by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General and the Law Foundation Queensland.
Last updated: 6 May 2009.