Harsh treatment of employee held not to be ‘bullying’

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 handling of them and the unreserved acceptance of another colleague’s version of events without being offered a chance to explain her side of the story.

The behaviour in this case, both by the colleague and the director, was not considered to be unreasonable. With respect to the interactions between the complainant and her colleague, the Commissioner noted that in some circumstances interpersonal conflict may meet the definition for bullying but did not do so on these facts. Although the Director’s handling of the disciplinary issues was also held not to amount to bullying, the Commissioner was critical of the approach adopted and recommended that management training be provided to the director that focussed on ‘supervisory communication styles and methods’.

Lesson for Employers

If a complaint is made by one employee about another employee’s conduct, it is important that a transparent and fair process is followed to investigate if the complaint is substantiated on the facts. It is a basic but important requirement that the process should include the opportunity for the employee concerned, to provide their own version of the events or an explanation for why something occurred. It is important that managers and other supervisory level staff communicate with employees in a way that is calm and measured and that they consider alternate explanations before reaching a conclusion.

Sarah Waterhouse – Solicitor – BlandsLaw

Christine Broad – Solicitor – BlandsLaw

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

[1]YH v Centre and Others [2014] FWC 8905.



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