FWC annual report: 343 bullying claims in six months

HC investigates how bullying claims can be dealt with before they become one of the mediations dealt with by the FWC.

The Fair Work Commission recently published its annual report for 2013-14, which showed that throughout the year, FWC staff made 21 decisions regarding bullying claims. Twenty of those claims were dismissed due to no bullying being found to have taken place, or matters not being pursued by the applicant.

"This year we have also had the introduction of the new anti-bullying jurisdiction with 343 applications in the first six months,” said a spokesperson for the FWC. “However it is too early in the jurisdiction to establish any real trends both in terms of the number of applications or outcomes.”

During the year, the FWC conducted 13 mediations following bullying claims. Most of these were conducted by phone. In the majority of cases, informal conferences were conducted by members of the commission in order to gain an insight into issues and stabilise work relationships.

“The FWC conducts most of its claims over the phone, which is an interesting technique,” said Martin Nally, managing director of HR Anywhere. “This is efficient and less costly, but can take the emotion out of the situation slightly. Often these things come down to negotiation which can be difficult to do over the phone.”

Nally said that employers should be striving to prevent these cases from escalating until mediation becomes necessary.

“We would strongly advocate that matters be dealt with internally first, informally and then formally if required,” he said.

He added that if a bullying claim has reached a mediation stage, it must be very serious, as there are many issues being dealt with internally across the country – which is probably why there were only 13 mediation sessions recorded in the annual report.

Nally advised that the entire workforce needs to be encouraged to remain vigilant when it comes to signs of distress or harassment.

“Workplaces need to adopt the 'see something say something' approach,” he told HC. “Employers have obligations to look after individuals and create a comfortable workplace. I firmly believe that what you accept you approve. As employers we need to be vigilant.”

Nally also told HC that employers need to encourage openness within their workforce to prevent those feeling victimised by bullying from needing to approach the FWC.

“We need a process whereby it’s not just left to HR or managers – everyone should be alert with this. We need to build awareness so that a third party needn’t become involved. We should not ever take away the responsibility of the employer and whole organisation to deal with things, and should be encouraging organisations to look into their culture rather than report bullying to an outside party.”

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