BlandsLaw - Blog posts from workplace bullying
Please select your page
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

When does banter between co-workers cross the line?

Workplace culture can heavily influence the way co-workers interact with one another. The trouble is, when the culture is laid back, it becomes all too easy for the lines of acceptable and inappropriate conduct to become blurred. Ultimately, this can lead to a fall out between colleagues and can contribute to an undesirable (and potentially unhealthy or unsafe) working environment. In these situations, employers must uphold their obligations and take reasonable disciplinary action where necessary.

In a recent case before the FWC[1], a mineworker was dismissed for making a number of derogatory Islamophobic and sexist comments over a two way radio which were heard by over 100 employees. The employee argued that the use of the radio was an attempt to avoid fatigue and the channel he used was commonly referred to as the ‘chat channel’. He also maintained that he had not been trained in the company policies regarding unacceptable conduct, and his behavior was not inappropriate as he had heard similar comments over the radio from

Read more

Social media offers enormous business potential but can quickly become a headache for employers if it is misused by employees. A recent FWC decision includes the action of ‘unfriending’ a work colleague on Facebook as unreasonable conduct by an employee.

Facts

In a recent FWC case[1] a bullying application was brought by a property consultant who alleged multiple incidents of bullying behaviour. The issues were primarily between the property consultant and the sales administrator. The behaviour complained of included repeated conduct designed to leave out, humiliate and belittle the property consultant. This variously involved delaying administrative work for the consultant, ignoring her and other inappropriate behaviour.

The Facebook component, which has garnered media notoriety, occurred after the sales administrator attempted to block the complainant leaving a meeting room and likened her to a ‘naughty little school girl’. She then took to Facebook and unfriended the property consultant removing her from her list of Facebook contacts. This latter action was just one aspect within a larger pattern of repeated bullying

Read more

Following a small number of other bullying orders, the Fair Work Commission has just made its first formal finding in a bullying application ([2015] FWC 5272).

Two employees of a small real estate business lodged bullying applications with the Fair Work Commission. They alleged that they had been bullied by a property manager who had belittled, humiliated, undermined and sworn at them.

The employees had made an internal complaint which had been informally actioned and was not conclusive. The two employees had not returned to work and had lodged workers compensation claims for their associated medical costs.

The Commissioner accepted the employees’ account of what had occurred and agreed that there was an ongoing risk of the conduct continuing. The ongoing risk aspect was interesting because the manager had subsequently resigned her position and then accepted a role within an associated business. Complicating matters the manager had since returned temporarily to her previous office location on a ‘secondment’ arrangement. Accordingly, the Commissioner deemed it appropriate to make orders to effectively

Read more

A recent decision by the FWC has described an employee’s treatment as ‘heavy handed’ but found that it did not meet the definition of bullying under the Fair Work Act.

A childcare centre worker lodged a bullying claim against the childcare centre, the director and a colleague in respect of events that spanned several years. The issues in question involved two main issues: interpersonal conflict between the complainant and her colleague and secondly, the director’s handling of two disciplinary matters.                                                                                                                                                                        

The first disciplinary incident involved the complainant leaving steps out that could have caused a child to fall and in the second incident she applied the incorrect sunscreen on a child.The facts and differing evidence present a picture of a personality conflict between the complainant and her colleague. The complainant had a preference for some tasks over others and the communications between the two had at times been fraught on both sides. The alleged safety or disciplinary incidents were apparently undisputed but the complainant took issue with the director’s

Read more

Twelve months after the introduction of national anti-bullying laws, Andrew Bland - Principal discusses the issue.

The recent annual report of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) showed the number of bullying complaints trending upwards. However, the numbers are nothing like what the concerned pundits predicted, nor has the new jurisdiction turned out to be the great threat anticipated to employers and their ability to manage staff, or so the FWC's capacity to deal with the flood of complaints.

In January 2014, as the new jurisdiction was launched, there were more that 28,000 hits on the FWC's website dealing with anti-bullying laws. But by the six-month mark, only 343 applications had been made.

There are many reasons why we haven't seen the spike in complaints forecast. 

It's probable many employees remain unaware of the regime and how to apply it. This may account for slow creep in the number of complains. When faced with an uncomfortable situation at work, many employees will simply leave. The other major disincentive is that there's

Read more

From 1 January 2014, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) will deal with workplace bullying claims from workers within 14 days of the complaint being made, and will have powers to make orders to stop the bullying. Financial penalties will apply to employers who contravene FWC orders resulting from a bullying claim. This article looks at bullying in the current employment law landscape and then outlines the new laws and some practical steps for employers to get ready for these changes.

Read more

The Federal House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment has released its findings on bullying in the workplace. The report, entitled Workplace Bullying: We just want it to stop was tabled on Monday 26 November 2012 and provides 23 recommendations to create a harmonised set of minimum standards and guidelines for the management of bullying in workplaces.

A nation-wide definition of workplace bullying

The Committee recommends the establishment of a national advisory service to offer advice and guidelines to both employers and employees on what does and does not constitute workplace bullying.  To this end it recommends the adoption of a nationally consistent definition of bullying and what constitutes bullying behavior:

“Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behavior directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.”

This contrasts with the current situation where there is no express prohibition on workplace bullying in any Australian laws, and with different definitions of bullying and no real guidelines in State and Territory legislation. Add

Read more

 On 6 April 2011 the Victorian parliament introduced a Bill to amend the Crimes Act so that serious workplace bullying could result in a jail term of up to 10 years. The definition of what type of behaviour would be covered by the legislation includes "using abusive or offensive words" that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm to a person (including self-harm).

Although Victoria is the first state to introduce legislation bringing this behaviour into the criminal sphere, if passed it is reasonable to suggest that other states will follow.

The introduction of this legislation reflects the wider problem of inappropriate workplace behaviour and making those responsible accountable for their actions. The proposed legislation would also cover online bullying which is of particular importance with the growing use of social media sites.

Implications for Employers
Employers need to be particularly diligent in ensuring:
1.    That they have clear policies and guidelines outlining what is acceptable behaviour,
2.    Defined processes for dealing with employees who do

Read more

When does banter between co-workers cross the line?

Workplace culture can heavily influence the way co-workers interact with one another. The trouble is, when the culture is laid back, it becomes all too easy for the lines of acceptable and inappropriate conduct to become blurred. Ultimately, this can lead to a fall out between colleagues and can contribute to an undesirable (and potentially unhealthy or unsafe) working environment. In these situations, employers must uphold their obligations and take reasonable disciplinary action where necessary.

In a recent case before the FWC[1], a mineworker was dismissed for making a number of derogatory Islamophobic and sexist comments over a two way radio which were heard by over 100 employees. The employee argued that the use of the radio was an attempt to avoid fatigue and the channel he used was commonly referred to as the ‘chat channel’. He also maintained that he had not been trained in the company policies regarding unacceptable conduct, and his behavior was not inappropriate as he had heard similar comments over the radio from

Read more

More Articles