What to do when the bully is a parent
Complaints of bullying and harassment of teachers and support staff are unfortunately not uncommon in the non-government education sector. Often, the alleged harasser is the complainant’s line manager, principal or co-worker. Recently, however, a steady increase in the number of complaints alleging bullying of school staff by parents has been observed.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given the trend towards increasingly child-centred parenting styles and the notion of parents as ‘paying customers’ in the fee-paying non-government sector.
While parental engagement with the school community should always be welcome and remains positive in most instances, unfortunately on occasion it entails aggressive verbal and email communication, excessive complaints about trivial matters and derogatory comments about staff to others, both in person and online.
School employees who have been subject to harassing behaviour by parents typically experience high levels of stress and anxiety, leading to low morale, absenteeism, workers’ compensation claims and even resignation from the workplace. The flow-on effects on the workplace include loss of productivity, increased costs associated with staff turnover and recruitment, and reputational damage.
Given the negative impact of parental bullying on both the affected staff member and the workplace, it is undoubtedly in the employer’s interests to take action to prevent it.
Unfortunately, notwithstanding the statutory powers of principals in non-government schools to direct the conduct of school visitors, some employers can in some cases side with the parents, rather than support the staff member. The harassing behaviour often then continues unchecked, to the detriment of the affected employee.
This is an unacceptable situation. Employers have a legal obligation, under both common law and work health and safety legislation to provide their employees with a safe workplace.
This legal duty compels employers to take reasonable steps to prevent reasonably foreseeable risks of injury to employees. Since bullying can lead to psychological injury, employers who fail to take reasonable preventative action risk legal liability for an injury sustained by an employee. It is therefore incumbent upon employers to take steps to manage workplace bullying, even when the perpetrator appears to be outside their immediate control.
This is a point of which employers should be well aware, with a number of employer policies extending the responsibility of employers to prevent workplace bullying to include parents and other visitors to the school. Further, the anti-bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act allow a worker to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying if an individual (or group of individuals) repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Employers who ignore bullying behaviour by parents towards school staff do so at their peril.
Employers, however, cannot take action to manage inappropriate conduct by parents unless they know about it. Members who have been subjected to bullying by parents should therefore ensure that they bring the matter to their employer’s attention and seek the employer’s support in resolving the situation.
In most cases, early intervention by the employer, such as meeting with the parent, is likely to put a stop to the behaviour.
If not, or if the employer fails to take adequate steps to resolve the issue, it would be open to the employee to seek the assistance of an external body, such as the Fair Work Commission with the support of their union.
Members who are concerned about inappropriate behaviour by parents are encouraged to contact our Industrial Services team for advice and assistance in managing situations on FREECALL 1800 177 937.
This article was extracted from the September edition of Independent Voice. Click here to view the full edition.