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Client Update: Key changes to bullying laws

28 June 2013

In brief: Laws were passed yesterday to amend the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to introduce new anti-bullying measures allowing individual workers to bring an action to stop workplace bullying. Employers should ensure they have a policy and procedures in place to respond to bullying claims. Partner Simon Dewberry (view CV) and Law Graduate Timothy Leschke report.

How does it affect you?

  • Workers will be able to apply directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) if they believe they are being bullied at work.
  • Bullying involves an individual or a group repeatedly behaving unreasonably towards a worker.
  • Employers should ensure they are fully aware of their anti-bullying obligations and implement appropriate systems to prevent bullying at work and to minimise the risk of claims.

The new anti-bullying measures

The new provisions will take effect from 1 January 2014. They will allow a 'worker' who has been bullied at work to apply to the FWC for an order to stop the bullying. A 'worker' is an individual performing work in any capacity, including contractors.

Bullying is defined to include behaviour that is victimising, intimidating, humiliating or threatening. A worker will not be bullied at work if the action is reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

If the FWC is satisfied that a worker has been bullied and there is a risk that the worker will continue to be bullied, then the FWC may make any orders it considers appropriate to prevent the worker from being bullied at work, other than reinstatement, payment of compensation or monetary penalties.

Implications

Employers can expect an influx of bullying claims when the anti-bullying provisions come into force. Any worker who believes they have been bullied can bypass their employer and immediately lodge a claim with the FWC. The employer will have little time to investigate, assess, and respond to the claim.

To minimise the risk of claims, employers should:

  • update workplace policies, ensuring they define unlawful workplace bullying and set out expected standards of behaviour;
  • ensure clear procedures are in place to respond to allegations of workplace bullying; and
  • provide training to staff, including supervisors and managers, regarding proper performance management and disciplinary processes.

For further information, please contact:

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