The Auditor-General of Victoria has handed-down his report on Bullying and Harassment in the Health Sector (23 March 2016). The report, which was tabled in Parliament last month, found that "health sector agencies are failing to respond effectively to bullying and harassment as a serious OHS risk".

In this eBulletin, we highlight the most important aspects of the report for HR managers, risk managers, and legal counsel operating in this sector.

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The Auditor-General of Victoria's report looks at workplace culture, prevention, and responses to bullying and harassment across the public health sector. The report makes 12 specific recommendations targeted at individual health sector organisations, as well as a further four recommendations for a coordinated approach across the State.

The following key points are especially relevant for HR managers, risk managers, and legal counsel.

  • Culture: The report calls on the sector to urgently respond to the risks of workplace bullying and harassment. Leadership should come from the top and should be proactive rather than purely reactive. It is no longer enough for organisations to simply respond to complaints on an individual, case-by-case basis. Instead, the report states that the health sector should be adopting a risk-management framework to identify, monitor, control, and reduce the risks more broadly.
  • Prevention of bullying and harassment: Policies and procedures must be up-to-date, clear, and consistent. The report highlights a number of common deficiencies in organisations' paperwork. These include: having multiple, inconsistent policies/procedures; not specifying when an investigation is required; and failing to provide review options.

    Moreover, organisations must ensure that staff understand and have confidence in their policies and procedures. For these reasons, training on bullying and harassment should be mandatory across all levels. Training should also be appropriately tailored to the staff member's seniority and level of responsibility, with particular attention given to line management.

  • Responding to bullying and harassment: Organisations must ensure that they have strategies in place for effective, early intervention where workplace conflict arises.

    The report also identified a number of common failures in the management of formal complaints. For example: incomplete and inconsistent documentation; failing to look at the "big picture" by not aggregating complaint data; failing to provide key information to staff members such as options for review; and not addressing the underlying organisational factors that may have contributed to the inappropriate workplace behaviour in the first place.