Anti-bullying laws: a storm in a teacup?

It’s been four months since the Fair Work Commission’s new anti-bullying measures came into force and despite fears of a flood of complaints, only one stop bullying order has been issued so far.

Anti-bullying laws: a storm in a teacup?
Predictions of 67 bullying complaints per week under the federal government’s new anti-bullying laws, which came into effect in January, have failed to come true.

The commission’s quarterly report shows that as of March 31, 151 applications were made for stop bullying orders, but only one was granted. Of the rest, 23 were withdrawn early in the case management process, five were withdrawn prior to a conference or hearing, 16 were resolved during the course of proceedings, four applications were withdrawn after a conference or hearing but before a decision and only eight were finalised by a decision.

Seven of the applications were dismissed and one stop bullying order was issued where a worker was at risk of continued workplace bullying.

“I have a feeling that all the flurry and expectation will wind down to just a little drop in the pond,” said employment law expert Amber Chandler of Kaden Boriss.

“But having said that, they are getting 200-plus enquiries a week and we do know that workplace bullying is rife. We see a lot of this in workers' compensation claims where there are claims for psychological injury and a lot of the time these days, the cause of that is harassment and bullying at work - whether it's by coworkers or management in the course of usual management action, such as discipline or performance management or just changing rosters.”

Chandler said the fact that the Fair Work Commission can’t award compensation in bullying cases might be part of the reason it has received far fewer applications than expected.

“In other jurisdictions around the world like the UK, their anti-bullying jurisdiction includes compensation, which is payable to the worker by the bully. So maybe when you’ve got consequences like that, it’s more likely that workers are going to make bullying applications.

“I think that’s why we we’re seeing a lot of bullying being listed in workers’ compensation claims. There’s no compensation made by the Fair Work Commission in its anti-bullying jurisdiction. It’s just about getting that stop bullying order in the workplace.”

What stop bullying orders can do:
  • Order an employer to monitor behaviour in the workplace and make sure the company complies with its own anti-bullying policy
  • Order the victim of bullying or the bully to be relocated or transferred within the organisation
  • Impose conditions on the bully’s interaction with their victim to prevent further bullying
What HR can do to help avoid anti-bullying applications being made:
  • Make sure there are effective and fair performance management and disciplinary policies and procedures in place and all managers and supervisors are properly trained in them
  • Document all significant interactions with employees and place them in their personnel files
  • Make sure employees are given adequate notice of performance or disciplinary meetings
  • Monitor workplace behaviour to deal with potential problems early

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