Anti Bullying Laws

On 1 January 2014, new anti bullying laws came into effect under the Fair Work Act 2009 with the aim of putting a stop to workplace bullying. Whilst only three months has passed since the introduction of the new legislation, Sync or Swim considers it an appropriate time provide Australian workplaces with a short review of the changes and their impact so far. It is important to note that these laws apply to all Pty Ltd companies but not sole traders or partnerships.

‘Bullying’ is defined under the Fair Work Act 2009 as a situation where an individual or group of individuals, repeatedly behave unreasonably towards a worker, or group of workers and that behavior creates a risk to the worker’s health and safety.

It is important to that under the Act the term ‘worker’ has been expanded to include employees, contractors, sub-contractors, outworkers, apprentices, trainees, volunteers and work experience students. 

The new laws allow an aggrieved worker to make an application directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to deal with the bullying issue. However, the laws do not provide the FWC with the power to award compensation to aggrieved workers but can order workplaces to set up certain frameworks to stop the bullying from continuing and preventing future occurrences. The FWC cannot make an order on a matter if the worker is no longer working at the organisation or the bullying behavior has ceased.

The FWC has 14 days to respond to an application made by an aggrieved worker in regards to a bullying complaint.

If an organisation has an internal bullying and complaint handling system in place and an aggrieved worker lodges a complaint with FWC without following that company’s internal procedure, the FWC may refer the employee back to the company in an attempt to have the matter resolved internally. However, the FWC will not do this if it considers that the worker will not be treated fairly by the organisation.

“Australian Business Lawyers and Advisors” indicates that the FWC received 44 complaints within the first month of it taking on the role of dealing with bullying complaints and a further 22 complaints up to the middle of February. This figure is much less than the 60 to 70 complaints per week the FWC was anticipating it would receive.

At Sync or Swim, we consider that it is far better for organisations to take a proactive approach and nurture a supportive workplace culture where bullying is looked down upon and considered inappropriate by all staff and all levels of management, than to leave individual workers to simply fend for themselves. We consider that it is the responsibility of top management to get the right message out there and set the tone for the rest of the organisation.

In this day and age, workplace bullying should not be able to go on for long without intervention from senior management. There really should be no sympathy for organisations brought before the FWC that knowingly allow bullying to fester within their organisation. We say this because whilst there always has been and always will be bullies trying to bring the vulnerable down, each business should have the culture, policies and procedures in place, which aim to prevent and deter bullying from occurring but also provide a fair and professional mechanism to deal with instances of bullying if they occur.

Putting aside the obvious positive outcome in terms of human decency associated with developing a workplace that discourages bullying and allows staff at all levels from junior to top management to work free in an environment free from unnecessary anxiety caused by bulling, there are additional commercial reasons that management should consider when deciding whether or not to review their existing bullying procedures or develop some if there are none currently in place. Such commercial reasons include:

·       Attracting the right kind of employees and deterring the wrong type. A strong stance on bullying will often scare bullies away from coming on board and encourage those potential employees who may have been bullied in the past or have strong opinions about bullying to join the team.

·       Saving time and money by reducing the likelihood of a worker commencing a claim before the FWC or their state’s relevant workers’ compensation regulator.

·       Lifting productivity. A happy worker is a focused and hard worker.

·       Reducing unnecessary time off and sick pay.

·       A potential reduction in workers’ compensation premiums as a result of reduced claims.

·       Lifting the organisation’s brand and public profile resulting from recognition that the organisation is an employer of choice and a professionally run entity.

Sync or Swim has proven experience in initiating cultural change within an organisation as well as developing and implementing professional and practical bullying policies and complaint handling procedures no matter what type of industry your business is in. Give us a call today on 1300 851 281 for a free 1 hour consultation to review your organisation’s existing bullying procedures.

Article by: Paul Bright, Business Development and Compliance Specialist.