After advice on dealing with harrassment in the ACT Gov workplace?

By 29 December, 2013 21

So my dream has come true to try out a career in the Public sector,  I have gotten a temp job in an office for a local department and have been enthusiastically trying my hardest for the last month.  It is quite a career change from the Building industry to Administration.

So unfortunately I have come into a situation where there is a restructure occurring and some of the full timers aren’t guaranteed a position come February.  So naturally I am looked upon with suspicion,  that I am there to take jobs.  In reality I am there to help with the overflow of work that hasn’t been getting done and am only on a 12 month contract.

So two of my colleagues that haven’t been guaranteed a position are very jaded, unprofessional and negative about the whole thing and unfortunately one of them was responsible for my training.  To which this person will not train me because they believe I will take their job.  I need the training to do my job and work on clearing the overflow.  The training is in the use of a custom live computer system specifically for this office.  I have spoken to the supervisor and they were very neutral/dismissive and sort of told me to do a very non-specific task just so I can keep busy (which I have been doing,  which is contrary to my duty statement – and is a complete time waster and come 12 months I would have achieved nothing).  I wonder if my supervisor is under the axe too or if he just doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers of my very vocal trainer who appears to be the non official union rep for this small office.

So I have been doing my time filler task enthusiastically although it is a waste of time and keeping my head down.  The overflow of work that needs doing is not getting done.  The problem is I have been copping a fair bit of harassment and bullying from the two aforementioned colleagues.  As I am new and a temp all I can do is smile and take it on the chin repetitively and the situation is almost unbearable.  They have made it a horrible place to work and it is having an effect on my personal life now.  The office is fairly small and my other colleagues are friendly enough but stay out of it and don’t come to my aid or even give me work or training (I have overheard it is because the person responsible for my training has told them not to help me at all and because this person is senior they don’t mess with them)

I should mention that the two colleagues that harass me are related.  I would of thought that would be a conflict of interest and contrary to the ACT PS Code of conduct just having them in the same office in a power group but anyways.

I have been secretly writing down and documenting everything that is happening but the volume of bullying and harassment is pretty thick so I miss some things on occasion.  I was going to walk away from it all but I don’t want to blow my first opportunity at something I have been working at getting for about a year including taking a Certificate 3 course so I could pursue this career change.

I am after some advice from fellow Rioters who may have experience working for local government and knowledge in dealing with these kinds of situations.  Can anyone please advise on how I should act and how to proceed?  It would be much appreciated.

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21 Responses to After advice on dealing with harrassment in the ACT Gov workplace?
#1
Genie7:01 pm, 29 Dec 13

You mentioned you’re only on a 12 month contract. Are you being paid direct or through an agency. If the later. Take your complaint to the agency and they will take the matter further. If not, make a complaint directly with the HR manager.

#2
MWF7:47 pm, 29 Dec 13

Sounds truly horrible Tim.

On paper and in policy there is loads you can do, however, in reality, doing loads is often more stressful and leads to worse outcomes than ignoring it (especially if you are working for the organisation I think you are working for…).

Look for another position within the organisation, I think you are eligible to apply for acting roles, hang in there and get busy on obtaining another position. Let that be your focus. Get another position and then get the hell out of that office.

#3
Postalgeek8:16 pm, 29 Dec 13

Maybe a few conversations that can be overheard about how shooting range time is the most effective calming element in your anger management program, and how you’ve stocked enough hydrochloric acid to fill a wheelie bin?

#4
How_Canberran8:52 pm, 29 Dec 13

How refreshing to read a straight-forward posting on RiotACT.

In short, if I were in your position I would go for the throat.

You appear to have taken the twelve month position in good faith and use it to kick-start future prospects that you may have in the PS.

How ‘Bill and Ben’ can preceive a twelve-month Temp as a threat is beyond me. Lodge a formal ‘work-place harassment’ case in mid January 2014…and sink the ‘no waves’ supervisor as well.

Let all three face the February restructure with a little work-place harassment/non-action hanging over thier heads.

Tell us how things pan out.

How Canberran.

#5
ausbradr9:08 pm, 29 Dec 13

What I’m reading here, is that the person causing the harassment won’t be there by February, and you’ll be still under the term of your contract? How long does it go for?

Surely you could put in some extra time to learn the system yourself out of hours, continue to do your job, and enjoy your workplace free of tormentors come February?

#6
Masquara9:19 pm, 29 Dec 13

Genie said :

You mentioned you’re only on a 12 month contract. Are you being paid direct or through an agency. If the later. Take your complaint to the agency and they will take the matter further. If not, make a complaint directly with the HR manager.

I totally disagree with this advice!
You are in a position you can do absolutely nothing about. As a contractor, don’t complain to HR. They won’t give a flying. Assume that HR will gossip to your colleagues about your complaint (there is no such thing as ethics & privacy in the government sector). Don’t complain to your agency, either – you’ll get a black mark on your record, regardless of who is at fault, and you won’t get another contract. Just keep your head down, work hard, make friends among the nicer people, and identify a good referee. The tone of your post sounds as though you are already wearing a “V for victim” on your forehead. Get rid of it once and for all, and learn from your situation – adopt more powerful body language at work, and try to deflect the crap. Put fresh flowers on your desk, and family photos. The best outcome you can hope for is a bit of a good mark with the agency for putting up with the crap for a full 12 months. So sorry you’re going through this – I assure you, I have known people with watertight, uncontrovertible bullying complaints and they’ve been shredded by HR. You are, unfortunately, an outsider and all they have to do is sit out your contract and get rid of you. Really, really sorry you’ve lucked out like this.

#7
Masquara9:22 pm, 29 Dec 13

How_Canberran said :

How refreshing to read a straight-forward posting on RiotACT.

In short, if I were in your position I would go for the throat.

You appear to have taken the twelve month position in good faith and use it to kick-start future prospects that you may have in the PS.

How ‘Bill and Ben’ can preceive a twelve-month Temp as a threat is beyond me. Lodge a formal ‘work-place harassment’ case in mid January 2014…and sink the ‘no waves’ supervisor as well.

Let all three face the February restructure with a little work-place harassment/non-action hanging over thier heads.

Tell us how things pan out.

How Canberran.

You are kidding, right? Do you know the facts here? The bullies will simply recast the harrassment as “necessary feedback and management techniques”. They are already being protected by senior management! Of course the bullies feel threatened by a talented, ambitious temp if their own jobs are under threat. And of course HR are likely to protect them.

#8
A_Cog11:02 pm, 29 Dec 13

Yes, indeed, WELCOME to the public service. Bullies exist, even in the ACT PS and APS. But unlike the private sector, the systems in place for victims are more transparent and more supportive. But they will not always protect you or ensure justice, so be prepared to be disappointed.

Masquara is plain wrong:

Masquara said :

…Put fresh flowers on your desk, and family photos…

LOL, OMG, FFS and AYFKM.

Recognise that conflict is an inevitable part of life. Embrace it, and feel comfortable with [office] confrontation. It’s not like a spat at the Tradies, where if you assert yourself, Blake is gunna king-hit ya!

Suffering bullying and doing nothing is awful, and has well-documented negative effects. Fighting back can backfire. This is your conundrum. Having watched this crap myself a few times (and experienced it once) I reckon you should go with How Canberran’s advice:

How_Canberran said :

… Lodge a formal ‘work-place harassment’ case in mid January 2014…and sink the ‘no waves’ supervisor as well. Let all three face the February restructure with a little work-place harassment/non-action hanging over their heads.

#9
kakosi11:59 pm, 29 Dec 13

You’re in a no-win situation where the best things to do are:
1) keep really good records of every single wrong thing that occurs in case your contract gets terminated early or you get accused of doing the wrong thing (a good bully knows how to turn things around and make it look like you’re the problem);
2) keep your thoughts to yourself (I cannot stress enough how important it is that you tell absolutely no one at work you think these people are bullies as once you do this you’ve painted a very large target on your forehead);
3) keep a smile on your face and act as though you like them even when you don’t mean it (give them no ammunition);
4) do exactly what your supervisor has asked you to do (but keep a record of every direction or conversation so you have proof they’ve asked you to do this other work); and
5) keep looking for another contract position to get out of there as soon as you can.

Your aim is to get a good referee report from your direct supervisor. To do this you’ll have to suck up big time and act like you love working there. It might not be fair or right but this is what life is like in many offices.

Last bit of advice is to take care of yourself. Do other things you like at lunch times and after work to get your mind out of the office space.

#10
Mr Evil11:34 am, 30 Dec 13

Wait for them in the carpark after work and then tell them that you suspect something really bad might have been done to their car, and that it may cause them to have a very bad accident. ;-)

#11
lobster1:54 pm, 30 Dec 13

Send emails to your supervisor about it.
Keep emails.
Use emails if anything happens.

Talk to HR if you ar employeed by the Government. Don’t necessarily make a complaint. Just make enquiries.

#12
Leon10:24 pm, 30 Dec 13

(1) Keep documenting everything that is happening.
(2) Get to know Bill’s and Ben’s supervisor both professionally and socially. That way the supervisor can get an independent impression of you before Bill and Ben complain to him/her about you.
(3) Look for a job elsewhere.
(4) Check out Section 9 of the Public Sector Management Act: http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/a/1994-37/default.asp. IF you have a solid case under Section 9 AND you can afford a good lawyer AND you are prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court, then you have a chance of “winning” a case. A “win” will probably result in a slap on the wrist for Bill and Ben, no benefit to you, and no prospect of ever getting a job with anyone in their social circle.

#13
scoobydoo_196811:47 pm, 30 Dec 13

your situation happens a lot in the ACT government – I was bullied out of a job I had been selected for in a permanent position, they made my life hell – same thing happens a lot in the APS and it really depends on the HR management some can be trusted others can’t – my advice is try to find another position life is too short and no job is worth going through what you are experiencing and it won’t get any better

#14
kakosi12:12 am, 31 Dec 13

Another very important thing to remember is HR works for your department not for you. They will protect the department first and foremost and often people find themselves more deeply in trouble after talking with HR.

#15
Genie12:36 am, 31 Dec 13

Masquara said :

Genie said :

You mentioned you’re only on a 12 month contract. Are you being paid direct or through an agency. If the later. Take your complaint to the agency and they will take the matter further. If not, make a complaint directly with the HR manager.

I totally disagree with this advice!
You are in a position you can do absolutely nothing about. As a contractor, don’t complain to HR. They won’t give a flying. Assume that HR will gossip to your colleagues about your complaint (there is no such thing as ethics & privacy in the government sector). Don’t complain to your agency, either – you’ll get a black mark on your record, regardless of who is at fault, and you won’t get another contract. Just keep your head down, work hard, make friends among the nicer people, and identify a good referee. The tone of your post sounds as though you are already wearing a “V for victim” on your forehead. Get rid of it once and for all, and learn from your situation – adopt more powerful body language at work, and try to deflect the crap. Put fresh flowers on your desk, and family photos. The best outcome you can hope for is a bit of a good mark with the agency for putting up with the crap for a full 12 months. So sorry you’re going through this – I assure you, I have known people with watertight, uncontrovertible bullying complaints and they’ve been shredded by HR. You are, unfortunately, an outsider and all they have to do is sit out your contract and get rid of you. Really, really sorry you’ve lucked out like this.

Incorrect ! I used to do contract work, and after a 3 month stint in the ACT government where I felt like I’d been stuck in a torture chamber for the entire duration, I gave honest feedback to my recruitment agency (who I had done several contracts with previously with no complaints). They were grateful for my advice and told me I should have spoken to them earlier about the horrendous working conditions so they could have stepped in and done something about it.

I later heard from my recruitment consultant that they removed other staff from the office (on full pay until a new job was found) due to the unsatisfactory working conditions and refused to provide new staff. I’m not sure what happened down the line, as I chose not to be a part of the FWO complaint.

#16
miz8:12 am, 31 Dec 13

Join the CPSU and get in touch with them. That’s what they are for – they are professional workplace advocates that act on behalf of members. Become a member and find out how they can assist you. It’s inexpensive and totally worth it. Think of it as insurance.
CPSU represents ACT Govt and Cth Govt employees.
It sounds from your post like you are working in the ACT PS (who seem to have loads of contract staff, so you are not unusual). If this is the case, I would actively seek a transfer at level to another area.

#17
CraigT9:46 am, 31 Dec 13

Genie said :

Masquara said :

Genie said :

You mentioned you’re only on a 12 month contract. Are you being paid direct or through an agency. If the later. Take your complaint to the agency and they will take the matter further. If not, make a complaint directly with the HR manager.

I totally disagree with this advice!
You are in a position you can do absolutely nothing about. As a contractor, don’t complain to HR. They won’t give a flying. Assume that HR will gossip to your colleagues about your complaint (there is no such thing as ethics & privacy in the government sector). Don’t complain to your agency, either – you’ll get a black mark on your record, regardless of who is at fault, and you won’t get another contract. Just keep your head down, work hard, make friends among the nicer people, and identify a good referee. The tone of your post sounds as though you are already wearing a “V for victim” on your forehead. Get rid of it once and for all, and learn from your situation – adopt more powerful body language at work, and try to deflect the crap. Put fresh flowers on your desk, and family photos. The best outcome you can hope for is a bit of a good mark with the agency for putting up with the crap for a full 12 months. So sorry you’re going through this – I assure you, I have known people with watertight, uncontrovertible bullying complaints and they’ve been shredded by HR. You are, unfortunately, an outsider and all they have to do is sit out your contract and get rid of you. Really, really sorry you’ve lucked out like this.

Incorrect ! I used to do contract work, and after a 3 month stint in the ACT government where I felt like I’d been stuck in a torture chamber for the entire duration, ….

Interesting.

I recently did a short stint of contracting for the ACT government, and I was flabbergasted at the bizarre behaviour of the person who was supposed to be my supervisor. Complete and utter knob. And it can’t have been just him, because it wasn’t unusual to see women crying their eyes out in the car park after an encounter with their boss.

Unlike you, I said nothing. Even got extended. It was a complete and utter nightmare. I would never, ever do it again.

#18
gazket2:35 pm, 31 Dec 13

so you used to work in the building industry. Did you leave your balls behind as well.

Play on their fear tell them you are hear to take someones job because your a bunch of lazy nepotistic bastards now piss off and leave me alone or I’m going to snap.

#19
breda1:47 pm, 02 Jan 14

Well, first, lose the “bullying and harassment” meme.

Back in medieval times, I was hired for a permanent position in a small family company. My supervisor, and his mate, were not involved in the hiring process.

So, I went there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and discovered that my boss and his pal in our work group of 3 was at best lukewarm towards me from Day 1. Later, I found out that they wanted another pal of theirs for the job, but had been thwarted by the boss. I was just the meat in the sandwich, no matter what I did.

To cut a long story short, you have to decide how much you want this job. What I did was to put in a stellar performance on the boss’ pet project, staying till 2 am on my own to pull it out of the fire, and then quit. And I told him why (he gave me a good reference).

This sort of stuff has been going on since employment began. Make up your mind what you want, what your limits are, and meanwhile do not ever fall into the role of a victim.

#20
Tim3311:41 pm, 02 Jan 14

Thanks everyone for the replies. There is some great advice coming in for me to ponder over. I do like the ‘don’t be a victim’ idea, I was thinking about that today and it is easy to get sucked into that when you are under the cross-hairs and lose sight of the bigger picture. The fact that I am there to do a job (or try my best too). I suppose it isn’t like their withholding money, I am still getting paid.

Gazket – I still have my balls mate and I worry that is what may get me fired. When I was a second year apprentice I was bullied pretty bad one day until I jumped off my 8 foot ladder then threw it through a freshly sheeted (unpainted and unstopped luckily) gyprock wall next to this bloke. He never bullied me again and the boss thought it was piss funny.

I can’t do that in an office environment can I? What do balls have to do with standing up for yourself in the office?

#21
Tim3311:45 pm, 02 Jan 14

Oh man that spelling is atrocious better fix it before I get flamed:

‘ The fact that I am there to do a job (or try my best TO). I suppose it isn’t like THEY’RE withholding money, I am still getting paid. ‘

Wow no excuse for that.

Anyways I thank everyone for the advice. I really needed it. Cheers.

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