This week, the Fair Work Commission made its first formal bullying finding since introducing changes, in January 2014, enabling employees to pursue complaints of bullying through the Fair Work Commission.
In this case against a small real estate business, Commissioner Peter Hampton said that he was satisfied that a property manager had bullied and harassed two employees and that the manager’s behaviour ranged from unreasonably undermining the quality of their work, belittling and humiliating conduct to abusive language and threats of violence.
The manager in question resigned subsequent to the claim of bullying being pursued in the Commission, but she accepted an equivalent position within a related organisation at another location. The employer argued that this was sufficient to ensure that the employees’ concerns had been addressed and there was no potential for the bullying behaviour to continue. The Commission rejected this argument and said that an “unprofessional” workplace culture had persisted and interactions took place in the workplace that “created a risk to the health and safety of a number of the workers“.
The Commission made orders to address the problems in the organisation and to prevent the manager from having any contact with the employees who brought the bullying claim. These orders will remain in force for 24 months. The full orders can be viewed here: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/awardsandorders/html/pr569997.htm. The employer argued that the orders would create “practical difficulties” for its business, because the manager remained employed within the broader business and so needed to have ongoing contact with its employees. The Commissioner acknowledged this, but made the orders nonetheless, confirming that they were “conducive to the resumption and continuation of ongoing safe and productive working relationships”.
Of particular significance to this case was the order that the employer “must provide anti-bullying training and an updated anti-bullying policy and complaints handling procedure to all of its staff (including Working Directors)”. It was also apparent that had these been implemented in the first place, the Commission would not have been forced to make the orders. Instead, the matter could have been dealt with internally by the employer.
Although there are no compensatory awards that can be made by the Commission in bullying cases, there will have been significant organisational costs associated with these complaints and the repercussions of the ongoing order. In addition, the employees affected by the bullying have lodged workers compensation claims for their associated medical treatment and costs.
We are likely to see more bullying findings now being made by the Commission, and employers would be well advised to ensure they have taken all steps to prevent cultures and claims of bullying in their workplace, and certainly to ensure that if claims are made, that they can be well defended.
The full decision can be read here: http://decisions.fwc.gov.au/download.aspx?doctype=pdf&edoc_id=6218493