When pressure to market the practice crosses the line

17 August 2018 | Sara Janovskis, BA, LLB, Senior Claims Manager, Medical Defence and Services, Avant, VIC and Lucy Charlesworth, BA (Hons), GDL, LPC, Senior Solicitor, Avant Law, VIC

Pressure to market the practice is an issue of concern for members. The scenario below demonstrates the potential for such pressure to test the boundaries of appropriate workplace behaviour and even become bullying. Knowing the boundaries and reasonable work pressures can help you identify when things have crossed the line and what to do to stop it.

Increasing referrals to the practice

You’re one of a number of physicians who work on a contractor basis at a practice and have been told in the weekly meeting that all staff are to email or call local GPs to encourage referrals. You believe the practice already undertakes sufficient marketing activities by sending GPs in the area regular letters about the practice’s services. On the few occasions you’ve spoken with these GPs, they’ve been very abrupt with you for hassling them.

You tell the practice manager running the meeting this exercise will just annoy those GPs you don’t know well, making them less likely to refer to you, and make those you do already have good relationships with, feel uncomfortable.

In front of all the team you’re jokingly told to “get with the program because it’s in everyone’s best interests to drum up business for the practice” and that everyone is to report back at the next meeting. You don’t take the request very seriously and go about your business until the next meeting when the practice manager starts noting all of the referrals in a spreadsheet and you’re singled out for having the lowest number.

The tally is updated each week and “your poor efforts” and “not being a team player” is constantly brought up by the practice manager, even when your referrals aren’t the lowest for that week despite not participating in the marketing initiative. You think the practice manager is unfairly criticising you – you’re feeling bullied but aren’t sure you can do anything about it.

What constitutes workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying occurs when a worker is subjected to repeated unreasonable behaviour by an individual or group while at work, and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

The Fair Work Commission’s Anti-bullying benchbook notes that bullying may involve the following types of behaviour:

  • aggressive or intimidating conduct
  • belittling or humiliating comments
  • victimisation
  • spreading malicious rumours
  • teasing, practical jokes or initiation ceremonies
  • exclusion from work-related events
  • unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work, or work below or beyond a worker's skill level
  • displaying offensive material
  • pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.

Bullying is unlawful. However, it is important to note that reasonable management action (including, for example, in relation to performance management or investigations into alleged misconduct) carried out in a reasonable manner is not considered bullying or harassment.

What should you do?

Whilst your workplace is asking you to participate in its drive to drum up business, it should not be doing so through repeated unreasonable behaviour towards you.

If you’re feeling harassed or intimidated or are experiencing bullying, raise your concerns at an early stage.

Try first discussing the matter informally with the person in question. For example, in this scenario, you could arrange a meeting with the practice manager to note that you have felt singled out in the meetings, and to see if you can agree on a more harmonious way of working going forward, and suggest that using a tally or calling people out on the referrals could be changed to a different method.

If the behaviour continues or you don’t feel it would be appropriate to have a conversation with the person, consider speaking to your manager or another appropriately senior person about the issue so long as they aren’t involved or there isn’t a conflict of interest in doing so.

Alternatively, if you work at a hospital or large practice with a WHS representative or HR department, they can assist you with ways to address the issue.

Most workplaces have work health and safety (WHS) or bullying policies and procedures in place. Read your practice or hospital’s policy and procedures to understand how they address bullying or harassment claims and who they advise speaking to about your concerns.

If the bullying isn’t being effectively addressed, you may be able to make a complaint to the Fair Work Commission if you work for particular organisations (for example, companies). The Fair Work Commission can make orders to stop workplace bullying, but cannot award financial compensation. It is generally advisable to seek resolution internally in your workplace before considering this as a viable option. Further information about your rights can be found on the Fair Work Commission website.

You can also email our Medico-Legal Advisory Service (MLAS) on nca@avant.org.au or call 1800 128 268 for expert advice, 24/7 in emergencies.

Bullying can lead doctors to experience psychological distress, anxiety or depression. If you are experiencing any of these health issues, you can obtain advice and support by speaking to your GP, your state’s Doctors’ Health Advisory Service or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

Avant's Personal Support Program (PSP) also provides a range of support options to Avant members who are suffering health issues, including face-to-face counselling, phone support or video counselling. Call 1300 360 364 to speak to a consultant about PSP support.

Key lessons

  • Workplace bullying and harassment is always unacceptable. Workplace bullying occurs when there is repeated unreasonable behaviour towards a person by an individual or group at work and that behaviour creates a risk to that person’s health and safety.
  • While your employer may be able to direct you to undertake activities within the scope of your role, they can’t compel you to do so through intimidation, harassment or bullying. Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner will not be bullying behaviour.
  • If you believe you are being subjected to inappropriate workplace behaviour, raise your concerns at an early stage. Speak to your manager, and, if relevant, a WHS representative or HR about it and they can help you address the issue.
  • Be across your hospital or practice’s WHS or bullying policies and procedures.
  • If bullying isn’t being addressed in your workplace, call our MLAS for expert advice and support, tailored to your situation.

More information

Download our factsheet on workplace bullying for more information.

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