BULLYING and harassment in the workplace costs the economy about $15 billion a year and is not properly addressed in occupational health and safety laws.
In a draft report released yesterday, the Productivity Commission found 2.5 million Australians experienced some aspect of bullying during their working lives.
It said while some progress had been made in ironing out inconsistencies in OH&S standards nationally, businesses were still burdened by 3392 pages of regulation across Australia.
The report prompted federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to call for employers and governments to turn their sights on the psychological safety of workers.
The Productivity Commission found the total cost to the economy of bullying and harassment was about $14.8bn a year.
This did not include the hidden costs, such as hiring and training employees to replace those who left as a result of workplace stress.
The report said "psychosocial hazards" such as bullying and harassment were not given the same attention by inspectors as physical dangers. "This adds to uncertainty for businesses about the extent of their duty of care and how to address (such) hazards," it said.
Workplace stress claims tended to be more costly than claims for less serious physical injuries and resulted in more time taken off work. The report said only Queensland and Western Australia had codes of practice on how to detect and manage bullying, which gave business more clarity about their responsibilities.
South Australia was the only state to include specific laws in its OH&S act about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.
In other parts of Australia, the issue was covered only by the employer's general duty to provide a healthy and safe workplace.
Ms Broderick said complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission suggested sexual harassment was increasing. But while sexual harassment was unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act, the law relating to harassment and bullying more generally was less clear.