In the shadow of the law : the silence of workplace abuse

  • Allison Ballard

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis investigates the intersections between workplace violence (defined here to include ‘bullying and harassment’), ‘voice’ and ‘silence’. A key focus is the ways in which organisations and certain aspects of Australia’s legal system (together with associated practices, processes, and procedures) may operate to silence the targets of workplace ‘bullying’ (however defined) and their complaints. I explore the gap between the alleged incidence of workplace bullying and finally determined court and tribunal cases by examining the incidence of workplace abuse, its nature, causes and consequences and the legal pathways available to remedy this phenomenon in Australian workplaces. I examine how language and meaning may influence the reporting (or under-reporting) of workplace bullying, and how ‘reporting’ alone may not be enough to win the bully ‘war’. The ways in which dispute resolution and workplace investigations may be used as ‘weapons’ to bully targets, particularly where legal and other practitioners may be conflicted or have a vested interest in process or outcomes, is also explored. How (alternative) dispute resolution processes such as conciliation and mediation may foster employee silence through the ‘confidential’ settlement of bullying disputes and the inequitable conduct of these processes is also explored. In addition, I analyze the first 15 months of Australia’s novel legal remedy for workplace abuse, the national anti-bullying regime. While some, particularly legal practitioners, may view this ‘new’ jurisdiction as ineffective, it is arguable that the regime achieves exactly what it set out to do: to keep bullied workers safely at work while stopping the bullying. I conclude by suggesting some strategies and new approaches to address workplace bullying and harassment including through suggestions for possible law reform and education.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPatricia Easteal (Supervisor) & Bruce Baer Arnold (Supervisor)

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