IT was another interesting example of political correctness gone crazy. My friend, a senior manager, was asked to attend a retraining course on workplace bullying in the light of tough new laws. As someone who has had her fair share of bullying rising up the ranks in media, I welcome any and all legislation that protects employees from this often subtle and insidious form of cruelty.
However, my friend was told that even cocking an eyebrow at the wrong time, with a smirk on one’s face or a sarcastic quip, can now be considered an act of bullying. I have to say that, well, frankly, the new laws are making me feel bullied.
Who’s to say that one person’s interpretation that they are being bullied isn’t just another person’s sardonic sense of humour? My partner is a sardonic smirker and a lover of the sarcastic quip. I don’t feel bullied, I often burst out laughing at his gallows humour.
Whatever happened to appreciating that laconic Aussie grin? Nowadays, if you do it to an employee you could be up for the maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.
My manager friend says he was told it’s all about intention. Is the smirk intended to humiliate or demean, or the act of a bemused boss being a buffoon?
Various websites give the guidelines of their states. The site for Legal Aid in Victoria says that bullying behaviour is a course of conduct that includes: making threats; using abusive or offensive words within hearing of a person; doing something that is offensive when a person is present; acting in any way that could reasonably be expected to make a person feel apprehension — ie, think that something bad is going to happen.
In NSW, bullying may be ‘‘active or passive, direct or indirect, physical or psychological’’ but it does include: unacceptable language and rudeness; coercive behaviour directed against someone; unreasonable teasing; all forms of intimidating behaviour; mockery; marginalising or ignoring someone; demeaning behaviour, whether business or personal, which serves to denigrate the individual — ah, the smirk!
I’ve had one former boss who threw objects at people; another who threatened me with a red pen — tearing to shreds a document I’d worked on for a month. When I was young I had a bully boss who took liberties. I’ve had a boss who used ‘‘accidental’’ punishments, including things forgotten, such as salary payments not made — ‘‘Oops!’’ he’d say, staring me down.
But ‘‘the smirk’’ I’ve never had. In this world of correctness gone insane, bosses must now be warned off laconic humour. With potential million-dollar payouts to wronged individuals, workplaces of the future will be dour places indeed.
Have you been bullied at work? Have we gone too far?
Full story today’s The Australian
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