New Laws to Curb Workplace Bullying

Posted on 04 April 2013

On 21 March 2013, the Federal Government introduced the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 (the Bill) in direct response to the Report into workplace bullying compiled by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment. If enacted by Parliament, the Bill will allow a worker, who alleges that they have been bullied at work to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying.

Any person who carries out work in any capacity for a person conducting a business or undertaking will be defined "a worker" and includes a contractor and student gaining work experience or a volunteer. However it will not include members of volunteer associations and persons carrying out work for strata bodies corporate and incorporated volunteer associations.

A worker is deemed to be bullied at work if the worker is at work and either an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behave unreasonably towards the worker, or a group of workers of which the worker is a member and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Where the FWC is satisfied that the applicant has been bullied and that there is a risk that the bullying will continue then they may make any order it considers appropriate to prevent the worker from being bullied. In considering the terms of an order the FWC must take into the account:

  • Outcomes arises out of any investigations into the matter being undertaken;
  • Whether their are procedures in place already for the worker to lodge a complaint internally;
  • Any other matters they consider relevant.

Examples of the orders that the FWC may make include an order requiring:

  • the individual or group of individuals to stop the specified behaviour;
  • regular monitoring of behaviours by an employer;
  • compliance with an employer’s workplace bullying policy;
  • the provision of information and additional support and training to workers; or
  • review of the employer’s workplace bullying policy.

Reasonable management action when carried out in a reasonable manner will not result in a person being ‘bullied at work’. For instance, reasonable performance management in which an employee receives fair and constructive feedback on their performance will not amount to bullying. Similarly, a disciplinary process initiated against an employee in a reasonable manner will not be bullying.

Once the order is made by the FWC any person who contravenes the order is liable to a maximum penalty of 60 penalty units ($10,200.00).

Whilst the principles behind the proposed new law are honourable, it remains to be seen whether it will have the desired effects of stopping bullying in the workplace. Workplace bullying has been a very topical issue of late and is certainly a topic which requires and deserves thorough consideration there is some concern that these new laws will simply add an additional layer of compliance, complication and cost for employers without actually addressing the root cause of workplace bullying.

Further updates will be provided by us As the matter develops.