Supporting a colleague, family member, friend or partner
If you see or hear a serious incident or workplace conflict that amounts to a work health and safety risk in the workplace, or someone tells you about it, you can contact the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service (PWSS). We can give you support and advice on how you should respond.
What can I do?
Every situation will be slightly different, but these steps can help you respond to a serious incident, or workplace conflict that amounts to a work health and safety risk.
1. Listen without judgement
- Let the person express themselves and feel heard.
- Encourage the person to express what they want to do and respect their decisions.
- Try to avoid telling the person what to do. Avoid asking too many questions or getting angry on their behalf.
2. Act to minimise harm or intervene
- There may be things you can do immediately at work to support the person’s safety. For example make sure they are not working alone with the other person or swapping duties.
- Support the person to seek advice and report: you can offer to support them to speak with their supervisor or contact the PWSS.
- Intervene: It may feel uncomfortable or awkward, but if you see the behaviour you should intervene and call it out. Calling out behaviour when it happens can stop it from escalating.
- You have responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws: You must take reasonable care of your own health and safety at work, and not adversely affect the health and safety of others by what you do or don’t do.
- You must follow reasonable instructions, policies and procedures given by your employer, including policies and procedures to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
- Parliamentarians have a duty to identify and eliminate risks as far as reasonably practicable and take appropriate action to respond to and manage incidents.
- Give support to the person to report and to seek their own advice and support.
- Encourage the person to contact the PWSS 1800 PH PWSS (1800 747 977).
4. Check in
- Keep checking in with the person. Ensure their wellbeing and remind them you are there to support them no matter how they want to proceed.
- Keep notes about the discussions you have with the person and any action taken.
If you are unsure what to do, you can contact the PWSS for advice.
While you might want to take action on the person’s behalf, it is important not to do things without their consent – for example, reporting to the police or identifying them in a report to the PWSS.
What might a disclosure sound like?
Someone who has experienced a serious incident, or workplace conflict that amounts to a work health and safety risk, might doubt themselves, or feel ashamed or feel responsible for what happened. They might also be experiencing the impacts of trauma. This can appear like nervous body language, lack of eye contact or not recalling important facts. Keep this in mind when somebody is making a disclosure to you and accept their story.
Being a support person
A family member, friend or partner may ask you to be their support person in meetings they have with the PWSS, in mediation sessions or in a workplace review. You should treat the process confidentially to protect everyone’s privacy and ensure the fairness of the process.
How can I make my workplace safer?
There are things all staff can do to make sure the workplace is a safe and respectful environment.
The best way to deal with harassment and bullying is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Creating positive and respectful relationships from the start makes it easier to prevent or reduce harassment and bullying. There are many things you can do to actively ensure a safe and respectful workplace culture:
Have upfront conversations about expectations
Setting expectations around behaviour and ways of working early on can save time later if something happens. Have a discussion in your teams or in your office and agree on the values and behaviours you want to see. This will give you a basis to call out unacceptable behaviours.
Research shows that high performing teams have psychological safety. You could discuss the following questions with your team:
- What does a safe, respectful and productive workplace culture look like, sound like, and feel like?
- What could you do in your role to build a workplace culture like this?
- What are some actions that you can agree to as a team?
Set up processes that contribute to a safe and productive workplace
You can set up processes like regular check ins as a team or with your supervisors if you don’t have them already. Create ways to check in with your colleagues, such as regular team meetings. This encourages structure and accountability and can resolve issues before they happen or escalate.
Be aware of higher risk situations
Situations that involve travel and events with alcohol can carry a higher risk of unacceptable workplace behaviour. As a team, discussing and setting expectations around behaviour in these contexts can be a powerful way of preventing issues from happening.
Be an active bystander
Bystanders play a critical role in stopping bullying and harassment. As a bystander, you can intervene to protect people and stop situations from escalating. It may feel uncomfortable or awkward, but if you see unacceptable workplace behaviour you should intervene and call it out. Without intervention, the behaviour can escalate later on. All staff and parliamentarians have duties under work health and safety laws to take an active role in creating a safe workplace.
Advice and support
For advice and support on creating a safe and respectful workplace, please contact the PWSS on 1800 PH PWSS (1800 747 977)
- Safe Work Australia: Preventing workplace sexual harassment guide
- Safe Work Australia: Preventing and responding to workplace bullying guide
- Safe Work Australia: Preventing workplace violence and aggression guide
- Australian Human Rights Commission – Supportive bystander factsheet