Bullying claims can be fabricated gains
Bogus workplace bullying
There may be a correlation between the increasing number of bullying claims and employees’ fears for their jobs in the current economic climate, according to Harmers Workplace Lawyers.
Reporting a significant increase in false bullying claims in recent months, Harmers managing partner Joydeep Hor says employers need to be aware of their responsibilities.
"When employees feel that their employment is threatened, many feel cornered and helpless — and some even decide to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves.
"Given the often high-profile nature of bullying and harassment cases and the negative impact on a company’s reputation, employees can see the bargaining power a claim like this might bring and they hope the claim will mark them ‘off-limits’ for any future redundancies.”
Hor says the reporting of workplace bullying has increased steadily in the past 10 years "as employees are better educated about these issues and have better avenues to report cases”. But claims have now reached new heights, he says.
“Rather than making outright allegations of bullying, employees may simply alert a manager or employer to an incident or conduct which could be construed as bullying,” Hor says. “That then puts the onus on their superior to escalate the issue, leaving the employee feeling less implicated.”
Unrealistic performance standards can lead to bullying claims, he says.
"The law is clear that legitimate performance management cannot be seen as bullying,” he says. "However, it can be a fine line between what is seen as an appropriate expectation of improved performance and what is considered an impossible task.
"As a result, a threat to the employee’s future can be taken as a personal attack by the employee. These situations are open to be easily misconstrued, or form the basis of an exaggerated bullying claim.”
Even though there is a risk of false claims, employers must take steps to deal with each reported incident, Hor says. "Real cases of bullying continue to occur and must be dealt with properly. This is necessary not only for the protection of employees, but also to demonstrate appropriate levels of compliance and avoid the risk of litigation.”