WORKERS who believe they have been driven too hard by the boss could mount a claim of bullying under radical changes to workplace laws.
Unions NSW is pressing for an expansion of listed risk factors for workplace bullying to include "work overload, systems changes, exposure to violence and fatigue and bad safety practice".
The peak trade union body is seeking mandatory reporting of psychological injuries and funding for a national bullying helpline.
In a submission for the federal inquiry into workplace bullying, Unions NSW wants the definition of workplace bullying to include psychological and mental health damage to workers.
The demands have major cost implications for employers facing an issue estimated by the Productivity Commission to already cost up to $36 billion a year.
"Often workplace bullying is the secondary hazard that results (in) injury after the presence of other workplace hazards including psychological hazards," Unions NSW said in the submission.
"For example violence, unsafe work practices, work overload and unclear work practices or inadequate work training may lead to higher exposure to workplace stress and a higher risk of workplace bullying behaviours causing . . . injury to the worker(s).
"The increased stress may also cause people to use behaviour that may be viewed as bullying behaviour."
The Australian Industry Group agreed yesterday that workplace bullying was a "significant issue" and more work was needed to address it. But director of national workplace relations Stephen Smith said the raft of new laws sought by the unions was not warranted.
"Safe Work Australia is developing a national code on workplace bullying and this should go a long way towards addressing the different definitions and approaches in each state," Mr Smith said.
"The statistics . . . show that many complaints about workplace bullying turn out to not be valid -- for example if an employer disciplines a poor performing employee in a reasonable way that is not bullying even though the employee may think that it is."
Corporate chiefs including former BHP Billiton chairman and National Australia Bank chief executive Don Argus have warned of the vital need for Australia to boost productivity and blamed the workplace relations system for helping to hold the nation back.
Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd recently warned against complacency as former Western Mining chief executive Hugh Morgan claimed Australia was afflicted by a "we are all right Jack"mentality.
Retailer Gerry Harvey said yesterday workplace relations already were too complicated with the plethora of rules making it expensive for businesses to operate.
"No one truly understands them (the rules governing employee-employer relations) -- they are not a big incentive to employ people," Mr Harvey said.
Costs to employers and governments are soaring through decreased productivity, low morale, mental health issues, increased workers' compensation claims, absenteeism and investigation and legal bills.