K asks: I have been here for two months and no one talks to me. There are 6 of us in the office and I try to be friendly but unless they have to, no one says anything to me. It would be ok but they all talk to each other so it’s really obvious they’re ignoring me. I haven’t done anything – it was like that from my first day. I think it’s because the person whose job I’m doing was sacked and she was popular here. I know I sound stupid because It’s only little things but it’s really upsetting me. Every Friday they all go out for lunch together and they’ve never asked me. It was one of their birthdays last week and she brought in a cake. She cut a slice for everyone but there wasn’t one for me. Then today I went into the tearoom and there were three of them doing imitations of how I talk (I have an accent) and calling me something nasty. They stopped when they saw me but as I walked out I heard them laughing. It’s got to me feeling sick when I leave home for work and I just want to cry. I am really embarrassed to be writing this as I’m 32 years old and should be able to work this out. My husband tells me I should try to put up with it but I don’t know if I can. Please don’t tell me to leave my job because I can’t afford to.
Hello K. Firstly, I’d like to clear something up: you don’t sound at all stupid. You sound like someone who has had the misfortune to stumble into a toxic workplace and is quite understandably hurt and confused by the way you’re being treated. You mention you think they might be targeting you because you’ve taken over the duties of a much liked ex colleague. Do you know what K? I don’t care; there is no excuse for the way your co-workers are behaving. I’m sorry if I sound angry, but I don’t like bullying and that is what’s going on here. They might not be physically hurting you but whoever first said “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” was frankly an idiot. Names can hurt very much indeed as does exclusion and mockery.
What’s happening at your workplace is not only unfair, it’s wrong in the eyes of the law. Every worker has the right under Occupational Health and Safety Legislation to a safe workplace – this doesn’t just mean there are safety guards on all the machinery and protective clothing is supplied. It also means bullying and harassment should not be taking place. – the company you work for has a duty of care to its staff.
I know your husband is trying to help you when he says you need to put up with it, but the kind of stress you’re being placed under every day is not healthy. Ongoing bullying can lead to disruptions in sleeping patterns, troubles eating, social isolation, depression and anxiety to name just a few ramifications. It’s a serious issue. The good news is there are things you can do about it.
Firstly it’s important you start to keep a diary. Buy yourself a notebook or keep it on your computer at home. Don’t use the work compute or email. You don’t have to tell anyone what you’re doing, but make a note of the “joke” comments, when these people exclude you. Even if it seems petty, make no mistake what they’re demonstrating is a pattern of behavior designed to make you feel bad. Write it down.
Do you have a G.P you see regularly? If so make an appointment to speak to them. If this has been going on for a couple of months chances are you’re already feeling unwell. Don’t be shy or embarrassed, be completely honest with them about how you’re feeling. This won’t be the first time they’ve spoken to a patient about bullying and sadly it certainly won’t be the last. If you feel the doctor isn’t taking you seriously or doesn’t understand how you are feeling, find another doctor. What’s happening to you is wrong and you deserve to be listened to.
You mention that you have an accent they were imitating. It is unlawful to belittle anyone because of their race, religion or country of birth. The Australian Human Rights Commission states the following: Racial discrimination is when a person is treated less favorably than another person in a similar situation because of their race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin or immigrant status. Jot it all down in your diary.
Have you reported any of this to your boss? It’s important they know about it as they need to fix this. It’s their responsibility to make sure bullying and discrimination doesn’t go on at your workplace and if it does they need to take steps to make sure it stops.
I’d suggest you let them know what’s going on in writing. Pop it down in an email and keep a copy for yourself. I know that can be a very confronting thing to do, but there are laws in place to protect people who make a complaint such as this.
If after letting your employer know they do nothing to solve this problem there are further steps you can take. For example you can apply to the Fairwork Commission for an application for the bullying to stop.
Are you a member of a Union? If so please keep them informed. If you’re not, call us on our toll free number 1300 486 466 and we can go over anything you find confusing and give you some more information about how to take this matter further if your boss doesn’t resolve matters. It’s a free and confidential service.
All that’s left to say K is that none of this is your fault.. it doesn’t mean you’re nasty or not a good work colleague. You don’t deserve any of this but as I hope you now know there are steps you can take to resolve it. Please call us if you need to.