Your Business and the New Anti-Bullying Legislation

Michael Corrigan , 3 December 2013

Michael Corrigan of Platinum Employee Relations explains the changes to workplace laws on bullying and what you need to know.

The amendments to the Fair Work Act regarding bullying will affect every employer, and it is imperative that you understand what the changes mean for your business.

The amendment allows a worker who is being bullied at work, or believes he/she is being bullied at work, the right to bypass his/her employer and apply directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the bullying. The FWC will then have 14 days to action the complaint.

Should the FWC determine that the worker has been bullied and that there is a risk of this bullying continuing, the FWC has the power to make any order it deems appropriate to ensure the bullying does not continue, although no financial damages can be awarded. Should the orders be breached, however, the employer faces breach penalties of up to $10,200 for an individual, or $51,000 for a body corporate.

What do you need to do as an employer?

Firstly, it is paramount that you understand what is considered as workplace bullying. Section 789FD of the Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 states that:

A worker is considered to have been bullied at work if

  1. while the worker is at work in a constitutionally covered business, an individual, or a group of individuals, repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker, or a group of workers of which the worker is a member; and
  2. that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

It is important to note that this definition does not apply to “reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.”

As the definition in the Act is quite broad, due care must be taken to prevent any instances of bullying and reduce the likelihood of complaints to the FWC.

The best way to do this is to have a current Workplace Bullying Policy that is reviewed on a regular basis and is issued to all employees. You must also have clear systems in place to address workplace bullying, and these systems must be communicated to all workers. Lastly, it is imperative to have a positive workplace culture, the benefits of which will impact the business as a whole.

Michael Corrigan is the director of Platinum Employment Relations. This item first appeared in ACA Communique, December 2013. 

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