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By Key Business Advisors
Human Resources

By Colin Wilson

Social events are all the go between now and Christmas. We have just had two record-breaking grand final victories, with the AFL’s Western Bulldogs winning their second flag and the NRL Sharks their first. Melbourne Cup is right around the corner, Christmas parties and client functions are being organised and daylight saving has just kicked in. The extra sunshine and alcohol might signal the start of the festive season, but they can also be the ingredients for a rise in workplace bullying and harassment.

As workplace bullying claims increase, lawyers and the Fair Work Commission and Ombudsman cash in, which can cause havoc to many businesses – costing time, money, resources and a loss of productivity. In some cases, the damage done to your company’s brand and reputation can be even more costly in the long run. At Key Business Advisors, we’ve found that companies who don’t seriously address policies relating to workplace conduct, as well as those who fail to explicitly set out the expectations on how staff need to behave and treat one and another, are most susceptible to paying the price.

Since 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 determines that the worker has been bullied and there is a risk of this bullying continuing, it has the power to make any order it deems appropriate to ensure the bullying ceases.

With the changes to workplace bullying laws, employers will likely see an increase in speculative claims of workplace bullying from employees who are under performance management or disciplinary action that is being taken against them. So how can business owners and employers prevent unnecessary workplace bullying claims?


The following steps will help prevent bullying arising in the workplace and avoid unnecessary complaints being lodged to the Fair Work Commission:

  1. Make sure that you have an up-to-date workplace bullying policy and grievance procedure. Have clear systems in place to address any instances of workplace bullying, and ensure employees know what to do if they believe they are being bullied.
  2. Issue your workplace bullying policy to all employees. Ensure that everyone in your business or company has a clear understanding of the policy and what is considered workplace bullying. Ensure that management understand their obligations in dealing with any complaints and claims.
  3. Educate your staff on workplace bullying, as well as the impact that bullying can have on one’s wellbeing. Train your managers and staff to be aware of what bullying is and isn’t – for example, reasonable management action and performance discussions carried out in a reasonable manner does NOT constitute workplace bullying.
  4. Review and update your bullying and harassment policies and procedures regularly, and conduct ongoing awareness and prevention training for managers and staff.
  5. Foster a positive workplace culture. It’s so much more cost-effective than responding to a claim down the track, and its benefits are felt across the whole business – for example, through increased productivity.
  6. Should you witness any type of bullying or harassment, or should someone make a complaint, act immediately to address the situation. Seek advice early on so that things do not get out of control.
  7. Be clear about your expectations with staff concerning how they should behave at client functions and Christmas parties so that things don’t get out of hand.

Many businesses think that this will not happen to them but I can assure you that when this type of disruption occurs, it is not the monetary cost of the investigation that hurts the most, it is the down time incurred and the damage done to workplace culture and staff morale which can have the biggest impact. A lack of productivity and motivation is what kills profits for a business, as everyone – the business owner/s, the alleged bully, the person submitting the complaint and the rest of the team become demotivated after a bullying complaint is made, especially while they are awaiting the outcome of the investigation process.

This is what costs businesses thousands of dollars! So make sure you put the time aside and treat this matter with high priority. Be proactive, not reactive and join our Free webinar on Tuesday 8th November to understand how to minimise your risks and deal effectively with complaints.

For more information about what is considered workplace bullying and how the amendments to the Fair Work Act affect you and your business, contact the Key Business Advisors HR Team on 1300 4 ADVICE or via info@keyba.com.au.

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