Bullying or harassment- a background summary paper
Judith Cooke Acting Manager Equity and Social Justice Branch Victoria University Melbourne "Bullying activates our ancient and existential fear of being excluded, and shatters our basic assumptions about ourselves, the world and other people, leading to severe biological problems" (Einarsen, 2000). Discrimination can turn into bullying, but bullying isn’t necessarily discrimination” (VicHealth, 2001,p.14) Abstract This paper is provides some background information provides on bullying and discrimination and is intended to serve as a discussion starter within the workshop. It includes some of the findings from the author’s research. The workshop session will explore the implications for equity practitioners in universities in dealing with complaints of bullying and in developing appropriate procedures. What is bullying? In the absence of a universally agreed definition, the first difficulty to address is definitional. Bullying is a process most of us are quick to recognise when we are the targets and slow to acknowledge when we are the perpetrators. It might be easier to consider what bullying is not. It might be suggested that the following acts are lawful, legitimate, proper and normally appropriate means of inducing another to comply with what can be generically termed a "request". I. A supervisor asks a staff member to do something clearly within their position description in a straightforward way orally or in writing. 2. A coordinator asks a teacher to take on board received criticism, whether by way of response to refutable allegations or by way of discussion of possible improvement. Such a request would be one to one and not done in a way reasonable people would class as humiliating, disingenuous, coercive or serving other agendas. 3. A group asks an individual to take on board its concems without threat of sanctions at the first stage of such communication. 4. A supervisor refuses a request for leave, time off or other personal favour because s/he is properly convinced the interests of the unit and its stakeholders would be disproportionately harmed by acceding to the request in the circumstances then prevailing and s/he is prepared so to argue in any proper forum of accountability. 5. A staff member requests a student or member of the staff to do something by a certain date when failure to meet the deadline clearly involves colleagues in involuntary carriage of the burden caused by the failure.
6. A staff member with special skill, not easily duplicated by others in the short term, is asked to exercise that skill in a way tha t does not conflict with their position description or involve them in legal liabilities. Simply asking someone to do something is not bullying. Bullying involves the threat or exercise of verbal, physical or psychological force above and beyond what is reasonably necessary to get anyone to do anything they would not spontaneously and naturally do. All threats of force, all acts of clear intimidation and public humiliation, and all verbal abuse are acts of bullying and can be discriminatory. There is also a generally held view that bullying behaviours must be repeated and even escalated to be classified as such, although there is some argument that the threat (or fear) of repetition can constitute bullying. It is important to distinguish between workplace violence and bullying as in the Workcover Issues paper, particularly when considering the most appropriate organisational responsibility for grievance procedures. What is discrimination? The EO Act (Vic) defines direct discrimination as occurring “if a person treats, or proposes to treat, someone with an attribute less favourably than the person treats or would treat someone without that attribute, or with a different attribute, in the same or similar circumstances. In determining whether a person directly discriminates it is irrelevant(a)whether or...
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