Two developments at the end of 2013 have put workplace bullying
fairly and squarely on the agenda for 2014.
Firstly, as of 1 January 2014, it is now possible for a worker
to make a complaint to the Fair Work Commission specifically about
bullying in the workplace. The legislation specifically
prevents the employee from making a claim for
compensation: the purpose of the claim, which will usually be
against the alleged bully as well as the employer, is to seek a
"stop bullying" order.
Secondly, in November 2013, Safe Work Australia issued a
guidance paper regarding prevention of workplace bullying. This
will be the background for future bullying issues in the work,
health and safety system.
For both purposes, the definition of bullying (which has, in the
past, been a notoriously vague concept when used in a legal
context) is the same: repeated unreasonable behaviour
directed at a worker or group of workers.
"Worker" and "workplace" have
the same broad scope which is familiar from WHS legislation. The
bully could be a fellow worker, a manager, a customer or other
visitor to the workplace.
Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable
manner is not bullying. So for feedback, performance
management or other disciplinary processes, the focus will be on
whether the action was reasonable in itself, and conducted
reasonably as well.
Of course, it also makes good business sense and is good HR
practice to manage any workplace situation which might amount to
bullying. But these new developments mean closer scrutiny of
employers and workplace culture. Employers, like good scouts, need
to "Be Prepared". What does that entail?
You need to revisit policies and procedures around issues such
as discrimination, harassment, codes of conduct and work health and
safety, to ensure that bullying is specifically forbidden at the
You need to ensure that you have an appropriate grievance
procedure to deal with bullying as well other forms of
impermissible conduct at the workplace.
You need to ensure that staff, and supervisory and management
staff in particular, are trained to be aware of, and to respond to,
bullying in the workplace.
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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