Following a small number of other bullying orders, the Fair Work Commission has just made its first formal finding in a bullying application ( 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 stop the bullying.
The orders made included that the employees (who had been bullied) and the manager (who had bullied them) not approach each other or attend the business where the other(s) worked. The employer was ordered to address the broader issues within the business and put in place anti-bullying measures to help prevent further problems.
Lessons for Employers
Prevention is the best medicine! To help avoid issues such as the ones in this case you need to put in place good employment practices. Everyone has the right to be safe at work and this includes not being bullied or harassed.
Make sure that you have a bullying policy, conduct regular workplace training so that all employees understand their rights and obligations and make sure that supervisory and management level staff lead by example.
If a problem does occur, never avoid or ignore it. Ensure that you provide a prompt, reasonable and fair response. A complaint that is well-handled internally is much less likely to be escalated externally to a formal bullying application or other cause of action.