The Fair Work Commission has recently released statistics relating to the new workplace bullying laws.
It has already confirmed up to 44 applications from aggrieved workers looking to stop the bullying in their workplace have been received in the month since the jurisdiction commenced. This number is only set to increase as the year progresses. Of these 44 applications, only 6 have been withdrawn with the remainder followed up on the day of receipt.
Employers are now in the unique position of having:
- to ensure employees understand the conduct that constitutes workplace bullying, and
- knowing how to adequately investigate a report.
What is workplace bullying?
In order to be able to bring an application with the Fair Work Commission, the complained of behaviour needs to come within the Fair Work Act’s definition.
Workplace bullying occurs when:
- a person or a group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers;
- at work; and
- the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Bullying does not include reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.
Employees should be given appropriate training so that they can understand their rights and responsibilities while at work. This training should include revision of workplace policies and procedures relating to workplace bullying.
Investigating workplace bullying
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for their employees. Failing to investigate instances of workplace bullying (or incorrectly labelling conduct as bullying) has left many employers exposed before the FWC.
Now is the time to educate managers and HR personnel on how to correctly respond to workplace bullying allegations. If ignored, employers run the risk of finding themselves subject to a stop bullying order. Further, managers should understand the rights and restrictions surrounding ‘reasonable management action’.
Lessons for Employers
With already over 28,000 unique visits to the bullying section of the FWC’s website, it is obvious this new laws will continue to grow as the year progresses.
There are many immediate ways that employers can begin to minimise the impact of the new workplace bullying laws and prevent bullying from going unchecked and getting out of hand. Some of these include:
- Bring employees up to speed on behavioural expectations and obligations in the workplace
- Ensure senior staff know how to correctly investigate workplace bullying
- Err on the side of caution when presented with an incident of workplace bullying, avoid excessive sensitivity but ensure timely and correct management of alleged incidents.