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Apr 08 2011

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Time for change on workplace bullying

By Bronwen Wade, ABC Goulburn Murray

Life hasn’t been the same for ‘Mrs X’ from Albury Wodonga since she was a victim of bullying at work.

She was verbally abused and physically threatened by the head of the education organisation she worked for.

“I was finally diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and went through hell for three years while I took that person to court and my case was finally proven.”

She said while the bully was simply shifted ‘sideways’ to another area of the department, the impact on her was life-changing.

“I had some coping skills but not to that degree. I went to psychologists. I had a stint down in Melbourne at a hospital there coping with post traumatic stress disorder, and medication for several years. I had to select a new career path. I’m finally through it now.”

Legislation introduced to Victorian parliament this week would allow workplace bullying to carry a jail term of up to ten years.

Bullying expert and author Evelyn Field told ABC Goulburn Murray mornings its a positive development, but she’d like to see how it will be implemented.

“I think the devil is going to be in the detail. How do you actually prove that someone’s been seriously injured? Are they going to look at psychological injuries, social injuries? Are they just going to blame the bully or their employer?”

Evelyn Field said Mrs X’s experience is common.

“It is soul-destroying and currently the bully gets off scot-free.”

For talkback caller Janine, several months of verbal attacks and belittling led her to attempt to take her own life.

“It’s hard to talk about. They just tried to push me aside and I was given the tag of a troublemaker. They offered me money to be quiet and not say anything about it. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to continue in that workplace, I’d worked there for a long time and had some great friends there. That’s all been taken away from me because I can’t go back to that workplace and I have to start all over again and living in a country town, it’s difficult.”

Evelyn Field hopes the new legislation will make employers more accountable for the way they manage bullying cases.

“I think at the end of the day it will be validating for people who’ve been seriously bullied at work. It’s putting bullying into the same ball park as domestic violence and sexual abuse. Now we might look at the organisation that’s allowing bullying to continue. Bullying is going to probably happen anywhere. It’s not that it happens that is a big issue it’s how the organisation deals with it.”

“In many cases bullies can change if you know how to manage them appropriately. The problem is that many targets get so frustrated, so angry, that they react and inadvertently provoke the situation.”

Her advice is to take action.

“Don’t wait until it gets better. Look at your options. Look at what your GP can do, your lawyer can do, your psychologist can do.”


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