Workplace bullying

Is your business protected against bullying claims?

Can you or your business afford to risk being the subject of changing laws you simply don’t have the time to research?

Get the latest facts to protect you, Workplace Bullying Laws.

Workplace anti‐bullying laws will apply for the first time from 1 January 2014, following amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (Act). Previously, no specific Australian legislation applied to workplace bullying: workers needed to rely on general laws, such as workers’ compensation laws, to make a bullying claim.

Workers who reasonably believe they have been bullied at work, will be able to seek an order to stop the bullying through the Fair Work Commission (FWC), with the FWC being required to respond to a claim within 14 days.
A worker includes employees, contractors, subcontractors, outworkers, apprentices, trainees, students gaining work experience, and volunteers.

What is workplace bullying?

The Act provides that a worker is bullied at work if an individual or group repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards workers and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. Bullying behaviour can range from very obvious verbal or physical assault to very subtle psychological abuse, and may include:

  • Physical or verbal abuse;
  • Yelling, screaming or offensive language;
  • Excluding or isolating employees;
  • Giving employees impossible jobs;
  • Deliberately changed work rosters to inconvenience particular employees;
  • Undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information vital for effect work performance.

Workplace bullying can occur between a worker and a manager or supervisor, or between co‐workers.

What workplace bullying isn’t?

The Australian Human Rights Commission states that:

  • Some practices in the workplace may not seem fair but are not bullying; and
  • An employer is allowed to transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench or sack you (as long as they are acting reasonably).

Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner will not be considered bullying. However, a definition is not provided for ‘reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner’ and a worker may allege that performance management amounts to workplace bullying.

Such an allegation may result in significant costs to an employer who may be required to participate in a hearing to establish the facts relating to the allegation.

Contact us if you need to ascertain what may be considered reasonable management in a particular circumstance, and how this might impact your business.

What are the costs of workplace bullying?

There are a range of psychological and physical illnesses and injuries that can be caused by exposure to bullying in the workplace, potentially costing you:

 

  • Staff turnover;
  • Lost productivity;
  • Poor morale; and
  • Expensive legal costs if an employer ignores a bullying claim.

The FWC may make any order it considers appropriate, other than an award of money, to stop the bullying. However, if an employer does not comply with an anti‐bullying order the employer may be exposed to maximum penalties imposed by the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court; a cost of up to $51,000 on the corporation, and $10,2000 on an individual.

The Beyond Bullying Association estimates 2.5 to 5 million workers will experience workplace harassment at some time during their career.

A survey of 800 employees by Drake International found that half of the respondents had witnessed bullying, and 25 percent had been bullied.

An enquiry into workplace bullying by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment found bullying costs the Australian economy up to $36 billion every year, and that a workplace bullying case costs employers an average of $17,000 to $24,000 per claim.

How to safeguard your business.

This new legislation, commencing 1 January 2014, is significant, and could have far reaching implications for you and your business.

Gaining up‐to‐date expert advice on this newly introduced legislation, and what it means for you as an employer, is vital to protect your business, productivity, moral, and your profitability.

We strongly advocate that in response to the amended Act, you as an employer:

  • Seek professional advice to make sure the changes are fully understood;
  • Review and update your existing Bullying Policy to reflect the changes;
  • Make sure your Grievance Policy provides a comprehensive investigation process;
  • Ensure your managers and employees have received appropriate bullying training; and
  • Protect your business with proven guidance from an HR consultancy, who is on your side.

For more information on the implications of these changes for you and your business, or to discuss them further, please contact me directly on 02 4353 4453 or trishbell@head2headhr.com.au