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How to handle workplace psychopaths

How to handle workplace psychopaths

Work can provide a livelihood, identity, and often fulfilment…unless you run into a workplace psychopath. JCU Associate Professor of Law Louise Floyd is sharing the ways that the law can help empower employees, managers, and business owners who come face-to-face with a workplace psychopath.

“Every single person you will ever meet will either have a job, employ somebody, or conduct some form of work” Louise points out. Unfortunately, not all work experiences will be good. “No matter where you work, no matter what industry, no matter what country, whether you work in senior management, or you’re just starting out there’s every chance in life that you’re going to come across a very difficult person in your workplace, who doesn’t enjoy seeing you succeed and they might even put a few obstacles in your way.”

Dealing with workplace psychopaths might appear to be a doom and gloom topic, but for Louise sharing the legal options with those affected can be empowering. “Talking about if there is legal redress and what the law can do is actually very inspiring and uplifting because the aim is to help people negotiate those difficult circumstances,” she says.

In Louise’s experience, managing a difficult colleague or workplace can be especially complex for those in insecure employment “You always get the question from people who are casual, ‘if I speak up, what if I’m not renewed?,” Louise says.

Restructures are also a source of concern for workers dealing with workplace psychopaths “restructures should be as the Fair Work Act says, genuine redundancy is for jobs that are no longer required — but what if people use redundancy to get rid of people they don’t like even if those people are really productive members of staff.”

Employers aren’t the only ones affected by workplace psychopaths, there are large risks to businesses when the problem isn’t dealt with. “There’s a duty on senior management, and in fact all management, to have a safe workplace. If somebody is putting obstacles in a person’s way that’s actually a potential contravention of the duty to have a safe workplace.” One of the biggest risks for businesses is the loss of talented employees. “The really big issue is loss of talent, so if you know that you’ve got somebody who is obstructing the progress of really talented people, or applying double standards what happens if you lose that talented member of staff?”

What do you do if you come face-to-face with a workplace psychopath or are in a toxic workplace? Louise recommends a stepped approach. “I think the big thing is keep evidence of what’s going on,” she says. “You don’t want to be overly adversarial at first. You want to try to navigate as best you can the workplace that you’ve got, and the relationships that you ‘ve got, with the evidence you have if the situation’s ongoing and there’s no respite. If that still doesn’t work, then you’ve got think whether you need to bring in an external party and in what form.”

If you have a passion for empowering people find out what you can do with JCU Law.

Feature image: Shutterstock

Published 20 Sep 2019

Featured JCU researcher

A/Prof Louise Floyd
A/Prof Louise Floyd
Dr Louise Floyd is an Associate Professor of Law (full-time, permanent at JCU) and also a Barrister to the Supreme Court of Queensland.  In 2011, Dr  Floyd became the first Australian to win the MacCormick Fellowship to the University of Edinburgh