10 Questions Principals should be asking themselves (or HR)

It is important that Principals not forget that bullying does not just happen in the classroom or the playground. Workplace bullying complaints are becoming more commonplace, and they are particularly likely to occur in high-pressure environments such as schools.

As the ultimate decision-maker in a school, every Principal has a duty under work health and safety laws to identify and eliminate risks in the workplace. This includes workplace bullying. Each Principal needs to be able to satisfy his or her self, and their governing body, that their school is doing everything reasonably practicable to eliminate workplace bullying.

Typically this is achieved by having a workplace bullying policy, and most schools will have one. But when was the last time you read your policy? Was it any good?

At Russell Kennedy Lawyers, our experience is that merely having a policy is only a small part of the answer.  Workplace bullying complaints are more likely to get out of hand because either the policy is not very good or it does not reflect the way bullying is or should be managed in practice.

It is essential that workplace bullying policies are not just prepared and then shoved in a drawer or framed on a wall. Policies should be a living document that can be clearly understood by:

  • the staff who need to know what bullying is so that they can avoid it, and how to make a complaint if they experience it; and
  • management, who need to know how to recognise and prevent workplace bullying, and what to do if they receive a complaint.

With that in mind, here are ten initial questions every Principal should be able to immediately answer when it comes to workplace bullying:

Policies

  1. Do we have a bullying policy?
  2. Does it usefully define bullying?
  3. Does it state that school personnel must not engage in bullying?
  4. Does it explain how school personnel can make a formal bullying complaint?
  5. Does it explain how management will respond to formal bullying complaints?​

Training

  1. Do we train school personnel about how to informally manage their own concerns about bullying?
  2. Do we train our senior staff about how to recognise bullying and deal with informal complaints?
  3. Do we train our senior staff about how to manage formal bullying complaints?

Implementation

  1. Am I being informed of bullying complaints as and when they arise?
  2. Are we keeping effective records of formal bullying complaints, including how they are managed and any outcomes?