New workplace bullying laws come into operation on January 1 and
it's worth getting your business ready for it now. Changes to
the Fair Work Act 2009 enable allegations of bullying in the
workplace to be handled by the Fair Work Commission. Any worker who
reasonably believes he or she has been bullied can apply to
Australia's industrial tribunal for an order.
The Labor government changed the Act on recommendations from a
parliamentary committee which found workplace bullying was costing
the economy up to $36 billion a year and employers were having to
pay out an average $17,000 to $24,000 per claim.
For the first time there will be an all-encompassing law that
makes bullying unlawful. Before the change bullying came under a
series of general laws including workers' compensation, health
and safety and common law claims.
Some changes to machinery of the process are expected to be
introduced by the Abbott government including an as yet undefined
new "filter process" to ensure bullying complaints go
through a process that ensures the employer knows about the claim
before it goes to the commission.
The commission can order the bullying to stop but can't
award compensation. The commission must start dealing with the
complaint within 14 days of receiving it.
If the employer doesn't act to stop the bullying the worker
can apply to the Federal Court which can impose fines of $51,000 on
a corporation and $10,200 on an individual.
The changes will make it possible to deal with bullying more
actively than is currently possible.
But there could be an unexpected ramification in that the
definition of "worker" in the Act goes beyond simply
employee. It includes contractors, subcontractors, outworkers,
apprentices, trainees and people on work experience. Even
company directors and corporate board members may be able to claim
they are being bullied and go to the Fair Work Commission.
This means company managers must ensure they have an effective
workplace bullying policy in place that spells out what sort of
bullying behavior is unacceptable, and a process by which a person
who feels bullied has an internal complaint system to go to.
The legal definitions of bullying in the workplace are now
clearer than ever, and it would be wise for both employers and
employees to get experienced legal advice on the new laws and how
they can prepare for them.
There may be questions of bullying of a fellow worker in social
media that is done outside the workplace, but can still come under
the definition of workplace bullying.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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The FWC upheld summary dismissal of a worker who tested positive for cannabis, despite being denied procedural fairness.
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