August 12, 2012

Workplace bullying at the University of... Inquiry into workplace bullying, House of Representatives Committees, Australia

Under the Terms of Reference for this Inquiry:
The prevalence of workplace bullying and the experience of victims; and role of workplace cultures in preventing and responding to bullying I wish to draw to your attention:

• the entrenched systematic culture of bullying at the University

• the lack of support from the University following my initial allegation of bullying; and more importantly

• the enforced punitive punishment regime I experienced following my submission of a formal grievance that attempted to expose bullying within the workplace.

 Brief summary of submission:

I experienced 5 years of bullying within my discipline (2000-2005):

• Constant changing of my work tasks (courses deleted without consultation that resulted in the development of new courses outside of my specialization);

• Constant public humiliation (belittling of my expertise/ideas at staff meetings); • Excessive teaching workload resulting in 75hr plus working week that prevented me from engaging fully with my research commitments;

• Withholding of financial resources allocated to cross-faculty courses that I was responsible for;

• Overt ostracisation following my support for two post-graduate student whistleblowers that were treated badly by senior staff Lack of support and punitive punishment following my formal allegation of bullying (2005-2008)

• Refusal of the University to allow me to return to my academic duties following sick leave for major depression in early 2005 which I claimed had resulted from bullying

• The University’s refusal to accept medical certificates from my GP, my personal psychiatrist reports and the University funded psychiatrist’s reports stating my medical fitness to re-engage with my academic duties

• Placed under restrictive workplace conditions following my objection to the removal of a ‘stop workplace bullying’ poster from my office door

• Stigmatisation of my mental health injury that I had experienced in early 2005 through an University management enforced three year punishment regime of social, professional and physical isolation on campus; and

• The development of a discriminatory survey by Human Resources to justify their draconian and punitive punishment and subsequent forced early retirement.

Dear Honourable MPs,

First, I must state that in July 2008 under considerable duress I signed a confidentiality agreement (aligned with a ‘voluntary’ redundancy) stating that I would not discuss my employment with a third person or take legal action against the University. However, I will always regret being complicit in a cover up of malicious workplace behaviour at the University.

Unfortunately, I personally know of too many instances where the complainant and/or whistleblower has been destroyed by a culture that promotes and condones workplace bullying. That the University places higher credibility to traits of malevolence, malice, cowardice and self-protection rather than uphold values of excellence and integrity is shameful and should be exposed...

More at:  - Submission Number 8


Dan Nobull said...

Sounds very familiar - I really feel and empathise for this academic, I experience very similar bullying at the university I work at, in Australia.

Anonymous said...

The "death by a thousand cuts" is a favourite method used by workplace bullies and office tyrants for getting rid of someone. Often, there isn't enough evidence to warrant sacking that person, so they resort to this. Besides, firing invites the possibility of a wrongful dismissal suit, particularly when there isn't sufficient grounds.

By using this method over an extended period of time, evidence that can be used against the target can be obtained. That evidence can be along the lines of not performing new duties are assigned or doing badly at them because the conditions that come with those new duties make it impossible to do a proper job. This is especially true if those duties violate previous agreements or regulations so the target is thereby portrayed as either being insubordinate or incompetent.

The target may be aware that this is going on but each incident or infraction is quite often insufficient to support a grievance. The result is inaction as such a grievance is either not worth pursuing or will be disregarded as frivolous. In fact, it can be turned around and the target can be portrayed as the aggressor for filing complaints. But, by the time that firing becomes a distinct possibility, the damage has been done to the target's reputation and it's too late to do anything about it. The bad guys will then have won.

Along with the aforementioned tactic, another favourite of workplace bullies is a rumour, particularly one that is largely free of verifiable evidence. All that is needed is for a story, any story, to be circulated to the "right" ears and the destruction of the target's reputation begins. That could result in colleagues refusing to work with that person or students filing petitions against the target on the basis of what was heard.

Once the rumour has started circulating, the damage is done. No action or, for that matter, inaction will remedy the situation. Reacting to it will only confirm the "evidence". Not reacting to it means that the target has something to hide. Nice how that works, isn't it?

The objective of these tactics is nothing but character assassination and, unless they become public and have an adverse effect on the target, it's unlikely that there will be any legal protection against such attacks. Bullies love this one because it can make their targets unemployable. That person may apply for another job and a potential employer is bound to check into his or her background. Undoubtedly, these incidents or rumours will come up in the inquiry as they will have been recorded in their personnel files.

Unfortunately, these tactics aren't just limited to the academic environment. They are freely used in industry as well.

Anonymous said...

Further to my previous comment, if one's competence, ability, or integrity were in question, beyond all reasonable doubt, one can be terminated forthwith for just cause. In some jurisdictions, if one is under probation, just cause might not even be required.

One reason a bullying process is often dragged out is to make one's life sufficiently intolerable that one willingly quits. That resignation would be legally seen as having been voluntarily submitted, regardless of the circumstances which brought it about. Any lawsuit filed by that employee citing harassment or intimidation would, therefore, be difficult to win, if at all. The key point is that the court will consider that the person quit of their own free will, even if that person had been presented with the choice of resigning or being fired. The employer, therefore, is off the hook.

But another reason for dragging out a bullying process is personal. The bully might be tormenting his or her target out of revenge, which often happens if, say, someone had been passed over for promotion. But there can be another personal reason which is considerably more sordid. It is quite possible that some bullies have sadistic tendencies or are psychopaths, so they engage in this activity purely for their own pleasure. Why fire someone and have him or her booted out the door right away when it's more fun to keep them around and mentally torture them?

Unfortunately, there are no laws which require that a supervisor or one's colleagues be sane or of good character. Like neighbours, one seldom gets to choose one's fellow employees.

Anonymous said...

It is good to know that the Australian government are taking these steps. Hopefully they will provide a model for other governments around the world. Thanks for this site.

Anonymous said...

My bullying claims were investigated by a Kangaroo Court that did not require sworn evidence and where HR believed my bully and tried to discredit me. External authorities only required that my claims were 'investigated'. They did not require the investigation to be fair, just or follow due process. For example, although I was required to answer questions put to me from my bully's evidence I was not allowed a right or reply to my bully's evidence. Another tactic is to use external investigators who find in favour of the bully so that they will be hired to 'investigate' other cases. Bullying goes on and on and on and on at my institution in Australia but no one bothers to report it any more, because it just makes it worse.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 1:37 PM

Your case sounds similar to mine. No matter what I did, the deck was stacked against me. The dean clearly hated me and would have gladly tossed me under a moving bus. My department head and his deputy wanted me gone, each for their own reasons. Even a former staff association president was in on the conspiracy.

I had no say in the matter whatsoever.

At first, I couldn't figure out why because the judicial process in my part of the country allowed me to have a fair hearing. That was my mistake. First, official employment legislation didn't apply to me because the institution I taught at and its staff association drew up a separate employment agreement. Doing that meant the official law had been overruled. By working in that place, I agreed to what it said.

That, unfortunately, is perfectly legal. Most employees here aren't even aware of that.

It wasn't until I read this:

that the actions against me made sense.

So much for the pursuit of truth, wisdom, and enlightenment in academe.