Following an announcement by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation Bill Shorten (the Minister) last month, the Federal Government introduced the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 (the Bill) into Parliament on Thursday 21 March.

This was the second round of changes introduced by the Minister relating to employment law since the start of 2013, with one of the key changes relating to bullying widely considered to be the Federal Government's response to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment's November 2012 report, Workplace Bullying "We just want it to stop" (the Report).

In relation to bullying, the Bill amends the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) to:

  • Allow a worker who has been bullied at work to make an application to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying
  • Define what is meant by 'bullied at work', which is consistent with the definition of 'workplace bullying' recommended in the Report and the proposed code of practice by Safe Work Australia
  • Require the Fair Work Commission to start dealing with an application by a worker for an order to stop bullying within 14 days of the application being made
  • Enable the Fair Work Commission to make any order it considers appropriate (except payment of a pecuniary amount) to stop the bullying.

The Fair Work Commission will also have the power to refer the matter to a work health and safety regulator where it considers it appropriate.

Additionally, the Bill amends the civil remedy provision in the FW Act to allow a person affected by a contravention of an order made with respect to bullying to make an application to the Federal Court, Federal Magistrates Court or 'eligible state or territory court' to obtain a penalty against the person not complying with the order. A maximum of 60 penalty units applies to the contravention, which is currently $10,200 for individuals and $51,000 for corporations.

Significantly, the Explanatory Memorandum notes that employers will still have the ability to take reasonable management action in relation to counselling for performance and taking appropriate disciplinary action.

Further to our update on 21 January 2013 about the controversial draft legislation to reform federal anti-discrimination Acts, it has been reported that Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus will not proceed with the proposed legislation and it will be sent back to his department for revision. Whilst a timeline has not been disclosed as to when the Bill will again be before Parliament, it has been reported that the Attorney-General maintains that the Bill has not been shelved and the Government is 'moving forward' with it.

We will continue to monitor employment law reforms in the lead up to the 2013 Federal Election and provide updates on the significant changes when they are tabled.

If you would like to discuss this, or any other aspect of the new laws, please contact one of our employment partners.

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