Written by Rebecca Brown, HR Advisor
Workplace bullying claims can cause havoc on your business, costing time, money, resources, loss of productivity and in some cases damage your company’s brand and reputation.
Since the anti-bullying provisions were introduced to the Fair Work Act in January 2014, a worker who is being bullied at work, or believes they are being bullied has the right to bypass their employer and apply directly to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying. If the Fair Work Commission determine the worker has been bullied and there is a risk of this bullying continuing, the FWC has the power to make any order it deems appropriate to ensure the bullying ceases.
To date, there has been two different businesses which the Fair Work Commission has imposed ‘stop bullying’ orders on. In the first case it was found unfriending someone on Facebook was viewed as bullying behaviour, this included other findings such as belittling conduct, daily interfering, physical intimidation and undermining the applicants work.
In the second business these were the orders handed down by the Fair Work Commission where it was found there was bullying behaviour.
- The applicants and Ms ED (whom was found to be bullying) are not to approach each other and that they not attend each other’s premises.
- The employer must:
(a) Establish and implement appropriate anti-bullying policies, procedures and training, to confirm “appropriate future conduct and behaviour”; and
(b) Clarify reporting arrangements.
In both of the cases outlined above, the Fair Work Commission has ordered these changes to remain in effect for a period of 24 months.
Currently, the Fair Work Act does not specify the orders which can be made by the Fair Work Commission, so the impact a successful claim can have on a business is unknown. However the financial outlay required by this business could add up to thousands of dollars as they are now legally required to create and implement anti bullying policies and procedures, an organisational chart and spend money training staff. If these orders are breached, the employer faces breach penalties of up to $10,200 for an individual, or $51,000 for a body corporate.
Therefore it is imperative employers are proactive for matters regarding bullying. Employers need to ensure their bullying policies and procedures are up to date and reflect the latest legislation. By spending time in this area, employers can retain control over the issues in their workplace, as opposed to having a less than viable solution imposed on them by the FWC.
So what can you do? Prevention is key and will save you financially in the long run! In order to prevent any instances of bullying and avoid unnecessary workplace bullying complaints to the FWC, business owners and managers should:
- Develop a Workplace bullying policy (if you haven’t already), and ensure all managers and staff are trained on the policy and understand it. This policy should be accompanied by a procedure outlining the process for managers and for staff to follow if bullying behaviour is identified.
- Make sure you understand what constitutes bullying, and make sure your staff understand this as well, through a structured training program.
- Respond as quickly as possible if there is any evidence of inappropriate/bullying behaviour in your business. Act quickly and seek advice early on before things get out of control. This will show your employees you are serious about having an anti-bullying working environment.
- Constantly monitor your workplace for any evidence bullying behaviour may be present. Remember, just because a complaint hasn’t been made, this does not mean it is not happening. Look out for signs such as excessive leave taken, tiredness or unproductive employees.
- Ensure you train your Management team on how to monitor their working environment. Make sure they are equipped with the knowledge on how to handle situations where bullying behaviour is evident, regardless of whether a complaint has been made. Also train them on how to handle a complaint should one arise.
- Encourage respectful and courteous behaviour in your business. Remember, behaviours are often reciprocated from the top down, so be mindful of your behaviour around your staff and colleagues.
- Provide information to all staff and contractors during induction on expected behaviours at work, as well as information on how to prevent bullying in the workplace. Information should include how they can protect themselves, steps they can take if wanting to seek help, as well as implications which can occur if they are found to have engaged in bullying behaviour (which may act as a deterrent).
- Periodically review your bullying policy and procedure, and re-issue and re-train staff to ensure they have a clear understanding of the policy. Training should include knowledge of what is considered workplace bullying, as well as how to make a complaint.
- Act immediately should you witness any type of bullying or harassment, or should someone make a complaint, seek advice early on so things don’t get out of control.
To help place your business in the best possible position to prevent a bullying claim, contact the Key Business Advisors HR team on 1300 4 ADVICE or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org