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Giving Bullies the Shove

By John Francis

Bullying, long associated with immature schoolyard thuggery. But for some young people, the taunting doesn't stop on leaving the school yard. Stacy Ann-Campbell from Youth Press reports.

Abuse from the Oldies

Dunedin teenager Casey* is one who has experienced the ugly face of workplace bullying firsthand.

The17-year-old began working at a Dunedin factory when she left school with the dream of saving up enough money to travel overseas. She says that the older factory workers were initially supportive and nice to her – until they found she was going to be made a permanent staff member.

Now, Casey says she runs a daily gauntlet of insults and put-downs – and a fellow worker has even pushed her. She says her supervisors have told her to let the insults "go over her head" and that that's "just what the bullies are like".

However, Casey believes work places like hers need a real clean up to stamp out bullying: "I don't understand it. They (the bullies) are 40 and 60 and they are picking on me – and I am not even half their age. If this is the way that they treat me, then how do they treat their own 17-year-old children?" she says.

Smear Campaign

For Amanda* (18) the bullying was more subtle than Casey's, but no less hurtful. When she began work at a cinema, she says the other workers at first snubbed her, then started to whisper about her behind her back.

"Having money was the only thing that made me want to stay, but I wasn't disappointed when my contract ran out and they didn't want to keep me on," she says.

Liz Olsen, of Workplace Bullying, a help service for people being bullied at work, says such stories are not uncommon. She says she knows of another young woman who worked at a pharmacy where her employer would bully her by "bawling her out in front of customers for no reason."

Target = The Less Experienced

Ms Olsen says that workplace bullying takes many forms, with the bullies often picking on younger workers to be the 'top dog' of the workplace. She also believes young workers are targeted by bullies because they are seen as less experiences in the workforce and therefore somehow less worthy of respect.

Bullying and discrimination are typically based on age and gender, and often consist of abusive language and humiliation in front of fellow workers and customers, she says.

Other common forms of bullying involve younger workers being blatantly ignored by fellow employees, receiving unfair or undue criticism of their work and being placed under pressure to complete unreasonable tasks.

Some employers also bully younger workers by giving them too many jobs which they can't complete in an attempt to "set them up to fail."

He says work places sound be aware that older workers may bully younger workers, because that was the way things may have been done when they started working: "But it's not acceptable for people to be threatened or leaned on in the workplace."

Take Action, Speak Up

"Speak up and speak as early as possible," is Mr. Simpson's advice for any young person who feels they are being bullied at work.

He says if a case of bullying is brought to management's attention, they must investigate it and deal with the problem. Solutions can include counseling or mediation for both the bully and the person being bullied. Re-training for the bully or a written warning may also be given.

Ms Olsen also suggests young people could try to sort the issue out with the person doing the bullying – but if this fails, to report the problem straight to management.

This involves writing down their concerns and presenting them to the employer, who must then take action. However, if the complaint is not satisfactorily sorted out, there are three main avenues that employers can use to get their complaint sorted out.

The Employment Relations Act (2000) allows workers to lodge personal grievances against their employers on the grounds of discrimination, including gender and racial discrimination, which can be a feature of bullying.

Workers can also take action through the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, which requires all employers to isolate, minimise and eliminate workplace hazards – such as violence and harassment.

The Human Rights Commission can also investigate complaints about discrimination in the workplace, for example if someone is being bullied because of their race or gender. If necessary, it can take action under the Human Rights Act 1993.

*Names have been changed to protect peoples' identities.

Copyright 2006, Used with permission from TEARAWAY Magazine, Wanganui, New Zealand.

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