EyeWhen it comes to managing bullying in the workplace, the focus tends to be on dealing with the bullying behaviour after it has occurred or at least after the bully has started work. But are there ways to stop bullies from being recruited in the first place?

One place to start is screening during recruitment. There are certain personalities who deliberately inflict harm or lack the ability to understand the harm they are doing to others. These personalities fall within a category that psychologists call the ‘Dark Triad’ which comprises three sub-personalities: Machiavellianism, sub-clinical narcissism and sub-clinical psychopathy.

The Dark Triad share a number of overlapping features including social malevolence, callousness, aggression, manipulative behaviour, duplicity, a lack of empathy and a tendency towards self-promotion. Studies have shown a strong correlation between psychopathy and bullying behavior and these studies have indicated that psychopaths are fairly well-represented in leadership positions.

Psychometric testing is commonly used by companies at the recruitment stage to ensure a certain level of cognitive function and aptitude amongst potential employees. Some companies use behavioural interview questions too. But do they use psychological assessment tools in order to weed out the Dark Triad traits that lead to bullying?

There are various assessment tools that have been developed in studies aimed at identifying both bullies and Dark Triad traits. They range from basic questionnaires to more sophisticated tools that require administration by a qualified clinician under scientifically controlled conditions. Access to these can be costly, but when you consider the collateral damage that can occur from a psychopath in the workplace, who then ascends to management, and causes harm to other employees and the business, it might be worth the investment.

The corollary to this is, if these personality traits are viewed as a disorder or mental illness, rather than a defect of character, would it be discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (Act) to actively try to eliminate this group from the workplace?

The definition of ‘disability’ in the Act includes “a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement or that results in disturbed behavior”.

But even if psychopathy is a disability, all employees must be able to perform the inherent requirements of the job. To the extent that a psychopath is unable to do so they will fall within the section 21A exception of the Act and it would not be discrimination to refuse to hire them on that basis.

Isn’t it an inherent requirement of all jobs to be able to work without bullying and harassing your colleagues? An untreated psychopath by their very nature cannot work in a team effectively without harming others and ultimately causing reputational damage to a business. Should companies be investing in more sophisticated psychological assessment tools to screen Dark Triad traits and bullies form the workplace?

We would be interested to hear your thoughts.