Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bullying: School or Workplace?

It matters not. To the victim of either, the effects of bullying are the same: mood swings, sleepless nights, isolation, nausea, night sweats, panic attacks. A veritable cocktail named Anxiety and Depression.

As a result of bullying, people have committed suicide. People have died from stress-related illnesses. People are locked away in their homes, broken and vulnerable.

These people never did anything wrong!

Me? I fought workplace bullying and corruption within the state public service for years. And yes, eventually I succumbed to depression and to the confines of my home.

The system failed me, as it continues to fail others.

Anyone who follows this insidious sickness, particularly on the Internet, will be aware of a global epidemic, an epidemic fuelled by the psychosis of the bully and the stark inability of management to even manage a bullying complaint, never mind achieve a resolution.

How many times do we hear of a bullied child shunted off to another school, of a worker transferred out, of a victim resigning, taking the path of least resistance.


The system, if there is one, does not work. Why? There are no consequences for inaction.

During June of 2004, the Equal Opportunity Tribunal handed down a judgment, which, in part addressed this very issue. In McKibbin V Public Trustee, Judge Rice stated that management was vicariously liable for not having taken appropriate action to protect the worker, me.

Vicarious Liability is when a person is held responsible for the tort of another even though the person being held responsible may not have done anything wrong.

In part, the Tribunal stated; ‘...It is not enough to wait for a complaint before appropriate action needs to be taken by managers/employers.... if an employer is made aware informally of potentially discriminatory, harassing or victimising behaviour (e.g. observations of staff verbally conveyed to management, management observing relevant behaviour and so on) prior to a formal complaint being made, and the employer takes no action until the formal complaint is made, the fact the employer takes appropriate and commensurate action in response would not be sufficient to avoid its being found vicariously liable....In our view, in this instance Public Trustee impliedly authorised Mr X’s conduct by doing nothing about Mr McKibbin’s complaints or not doing sufficient about them. In our view, Public Trustee has vicariously authorised that conduct...’

Employers have a Duty of Care. Vicarious Liability is your weapon.

Radio switchboards are jammed with callers singing from the same sheet. Parents wanting to know why their child has been and continues to be bullied. Workers, behind veils of anonymity criticising management for sitting on its collective you know what.

During my years of struggle, never did I see a Policy that incorporated consequences for management inaction. It should never be necessary for a victim of bullying to seek judgment from a court.

We need accountability for inaction. Not more kneejerk, cotton wool Policies!

McKibbin V State of South Australia


Anonymous said...

This is always the knee jerk reaction. You describe it exactly as it is. A child who does not want to go to school. Who wants to distance from all they used to love doing. And wants to sleep on and on. And who sees no hope on the horizon. One tiny so called flaw (pimples on the face, not as good at sport, too pretty, too ugly). It does not seem to matter what triggers the bullying and brings it on. Once the bullying goes on for the while the child is marked from then on. Then others pick on them. Then there is no hope. Seems so hard to complain. Teachers who look bored and question that there really could be any bullying, 'I would have noticed, IF there was any bullying,' is the reaction, said with bored indifference. Or 'I'll look into it,' except they do not and when you remind them there is that stunned silence and bored indifference again or feigned ignorance that you ever raised it earlier. And yet you know they have been told about the bullying over and over again by more than one complainer. Then the parent who complains is singled out as the trouble maker. They try to divide and conquer the ones complaining. And the one who is bullied is under the microscope for whatever they can hang on the victim as evidence that the victim is a problem. And sometimes they angle to get rid of both the 'alleged'(their words) victim and the 'alleged'(their words) bully. That tidies it all up. NOT. Except by trying to get rid of the 'alleged' victim and the 'alleged' bully they are already pre-judging that both are parties to the problem. The principal acts with obvious distaste and yuck all over her face. If the principal wants to make out there is no problem then it is all swept away. Where is the empathy? Where is the support, in all this? There is no support. They cannot wait to get you out of their office. And nothing changes. You hear about it from other parents who are having the same problem. I think the system is sick. I think the idea of vicarious liability might really get some action, if they understood the implications. Be nice to see more people succeed in the courts using this vicarious liability angle.
Deep down I do not think they know how to stop it, so they make out it is not happening.

Happy again parent said...

Rob, we met some time ago at the ABC radio chrissie show. I took your advice and just about quoted verbatim from your court case regarding the Judge's vicarious liability statements and it certainly worked. I cant thank you enough. My child was about to be moved out when I told them there was no way. The bully had to be the focus of their attention. Well the bully is gone and my daughter is returing to the cheery daughter we thought we lost. I hope you got my thank you card in the post. God bless you. I know you have been doing it tough but your just rewards will come along soon enough.

Anonymous said...

Rob McKibbin you are an amazing man. No wonder you were seen as a threat. Such no nonsense honest and practical man would get that reaction. Because you would show up the false, cliche ridden insincerity of those whose idenity you know already.

Jenny H. said...

Hi Rob. I cant thank you enough. For most of last year our daughter was bullied at school, and it started again when she went back this year. After we met we took your advice and told him that unless that girl was removed we would be lodging a statement of claim with the court. It worked. Funny that. We really dont care where she has gone. She was a bloody bully and doesnt deserve any understanding whatsover. Thanks mate, you have made a difference to our family.

adelcomp said...

Thanks Jenny. Really glad it has all worked out. I don't give a toss about natural justice when it comes to bullying, particularly involving physical violence. Too many politically-correct theories, not enough action!

Chalkie turned pencilpusher said...

Hey Rob. Right on the money mate. I work in a government department and it is ruled by a bloody tyrant. No one is game to speak out. What the hell. Collect our money every fortnight and hope he goes away. Though there are some who we see to be at the end of their ropes and are getting very sick. Personnel is a joke. Trouble is, the bully is the top dog, so who do we go to. My place of work is in Education in town. Having heard about your adventures at Public Trustee and the AG's dept, we think you would have had a ball with our bully. She's not that street smart. Keep it up mate. One of the boys here was thinking about a Rob McKibbin fan page on FB. Is your 2 years up yet? Think you'll score a job in the PS if you applied?

Anonymous said...

To Chalkie turned pencil pusher I say if you want a cheery man who is really good with computers. Who is funny as well. Rob is your man. He is patient and notices everything. Rob sees through false liars. He is smart and wise. He can fix things that are broken. Any place that took on Rob would find they had a top bloke. One of the best you could ever wish for. He deserves to work in a place with a semblance of integrity, because he has suffered more than most from foetid cess pools, masquerading as managers. PS am not related to Rob. Just wanted to share with you what a top bloke he is. He deserves much better than was meted out to him.