Publications and News

Workplace bullying changes

1 May 2014

New federal anti-bullying laws commenced operation as of 1 January 2014 which is designed to stop bullying in the workplace and to give the Fair Work Commission (the FW Commission) jurisdiction to deal with bullying at work matters.

The new laws allow an employee to apply to the FW Commission for an order to stop the bullying from continuing.

The changes apply to all constitutionally covered businesses including registered corporations and many Commonwealth agencies or authorities. They do not apply to sole traders or unincorporated partnerships.

What is Bullying at Work?

The amendments to the Fair Work Act (the Act) provide that:

A worker is bullied at work when a person or a group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work

AND

That behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Bully behaviour may include but is not limited to:

• Teasing, practical jokes or “initiation ceremonies”;
• Constant unjustified criticism or complaints;
• Unreasonable work expectations;
• Excessive scrutiny of work performance;
• Abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments;
• Exclusion from work-related events;
• Aggressive or intimidating conduct;
• Belittling or humiliating comments.

For the behaviour to be bullying it must be repeated and unreasonable and must create a risk to health and safety.

What is not bullying at work?

Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner does not constitute bullying and may include:

• Disciplinary action for misconduct;
• Consultation with an employee about unsatisfactory work performance or behaviour;
• Performance management;
• Reasonable directions to a worker to perform duties.

What powers will the Fair Work Commission have?

A worker who believes that they are being bullied can apply to the FW Commission for an order to stop the bullying.

The FW Commission can make an order to prevent a worker being bullied at work if satisfied that:

• The worker has been bullied at work; and
• There is a risk that the worker will continue to be bullied at work.

If the FW Commission issues an order the employer must respond to the order or it may object to the order in certain circumstances.

Once the FW Commission has received the response from the employer it will then decide how to best deal with the matter based on the information that it has received. It may deal with the matter via mediation, conferences or hearings.

Reducing the risk of bullying

In order to reduce the risk of bullying occurring business’s need to:

• have in place policies that make bullying and bullying behaviour unacceptable in the workplace;
• understand the changes to bullying laws and recognize what constitutes bullying behavior;
• conduct training on bullying laws and their bullying policies; and
• have a procedure for dealing with bullying complaints. 
 

By John English

This article is general information only and should not be relied on without obtaining further specific information.

John English Business Lawyer / Director

John English is a Business Lawyer with expertise in the areas of business law, agribusiness and property. John is experienced in estate planning, .. Learn more about John English

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