The 1 January 2014 has seen a number of amendments to the Fair Work Act come into place.
Most notably is a substantial change in how claims of bullying and harassment can be managed and investigated in the workplace, and who has the power to oversee these.
1 January has seen the implementation of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) having the jurisdiction to deal with complaints of bullying and the power to put in place orders to stop any bullying and harassing behaviour. The FWC may make any orders it deems appropriate to stop the bullying behaviour, with the exception of pecuniary penalties, with the focus of this legislation being on preventing bullying, stopping the behaviour if it does occur and rectifying positive working relationships, not on collecting financial compensation.
What is workplace bullying?
The Fair Work Act amendments have also redefined what constitutes bullying in the workplace as being when:
- an individual or group repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or group
- the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Bullying however doesn’t include:
- one off instances of insensitivity or rudeness, or
- reasonable management activities carried out in a reasonable manner.
Bullying behaviour may involve any of the following, although it is not limited to these:
- aggressive or intimidating conduct
- belittling or humiliating comments
- spreading malicious rumours
- teasing, practical jokes or ‘initiation ceremonies’
- exclusion from work-related events
- unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work, or work below or beyond a worker’s skill level
- displaying offensive material
- pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.
What does this mean for employees?
Most employees throughout Australia (all of those working for a Pty Ltd or Ltd company, incorporated volunteering associations with multiple staff and the Australian Government, with the exception of a few agencies), will be able to apply to the FWC to have an order put I place to stop bullying.
From the time the complaint is made to the FWC, they will have 14 days to commence dealing with the application for an order to stop bullying.
What about employers?
Employers should ensure that they have a full understanding of the changes to the legislation. Importantly be aware that this applies to not only direct employees, but also contractors, sub-contractors, students, trainees, apprentices and volunteers.
As an employer ensure that your workplace bullying and harassment policy is up to date, clearly stating that bullying and harassing behaviour in unacceptable in the workplace. Ensure all employees and other workplace participants (as described above) have read and signed off that they agree to abide by this and provide training on the policy where appropriate and necessary.
Make sure you manage any cases of bullying behaviours swiftly, appropriately and in accordance with your policy to avoid escalation to FWC.