Do you have to get along with the people you work with

Interpersonal relationships in the workplace can be tricky. Even good ones need a bit of work.

But what happens when those personal relationships have a negative impact on work performance or conduct? The short answer is you don’t have to like everyone you work with but you should treat them with dignity and respect and in accordance with your organisations values. Perhaps easier said than done! So what legal issues which can arise if you don’t have a great relationship with a person you work with?

Discrimination

If the reason you don’t like someone is because of their sex, race, sexual preference, age, disability, religion or any other prescribed attribute, there is a risk your treatment of them may be unlawful discrimination. Discrimination occurs when you treat someone less favourably because they possess a particular attribute. Discrimination complaints can be made under state or federal discrimination legislation and also under the Fair Work Act.

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is a breach of work health and safety legislation and can also lead to workers compensation claims. In extreme cases, the bullying behaviour may be criminal. It will also be a breach of your employment contract and you could potentially face dismissal.

Bullying is defined in the recent amendments to the Fair Work Act as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” Unreasonable behaviour includes behaviour which is victimising, humiliating, intimidating and threatening.

  • If your dislike of someone in the workplace means that you repeatedly and unreasonably:
  • are abusive, insulting or offensive towards them
  • physically abuse them
  • make unjustified criticism or complaints
  • continuously and deliberately exclude them from workplace activities
  • withhold or deny access to information that is vital to effective work performance
  • set unreasonable timeframes or tasks
  • spread misinformation or malicious rumours about them or
  • expose them to excessive scrutiny at work then that will probably be workplace bullying.

In addition to WHS or workers compensation considerations, from 1 January 2014, the Fair Work Commission will have new powers to order bullying behaviour to stop on application from a worker who reasonably believes they are being bullied.

Importantly, reasonable management action is not workplace bullying but you need to make sure personality clashes do not lead to unreasonable management action.

Workplace conflict

Workplace conflict can easily arise if you don’t like someone at work, particularly if the feeling is mutual. Low level workplace conflict is not workplace bullying. However, if workplace conflict is not managed effectively, it can quickly get out of control and become workplace bullying. Counselling and mediation are generally used to resolve workplace conflict and ideally, employees will agree to disagree and get on with working together.

What should you do to have a good working relationship?

  • Be professional and treat all your colleagues with dignity and respect
  • Make sure your interactions with colleagues are according to your organisation’s values and/or code of conduct
  • Try to be balanced in your treatment of colleagues
  • Try to keep an open mind and aim to be objective, not subjective in your dealings with people you may not like in the workplace
  • Be mindful of your work health and safety duties.

For further information please contact:

Deborah Mackenzie — Associate — Employment & Workplace Relations
(02) 6279 4441
deborah.mackenzie@meyervandenberg.com.au