Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (cth) workplace bullying is defined as ‘verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by an employer (0r manager), another person or group of people at work. Workplace bullying can happen to anyone who spends time in a workplace in a capacity which assists that workplace. Victims can be volunteers, work experience students, interns, apprentices or casual and permanent employees.

Occupational Health and Safety Laws place the legal onus upon employers to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of workers is protected. Preventing bullying, harassment and discrimination is considered intrinsic to OH&S principals and, from January 2014, employers will need to respond to workplace bullying and harassment complaints quickly and correctly or risk facing Enforceable Orders from the Fair Work Commission.

Under amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) workers now have the right to seek redress over workplace bullying through the Fair Work Commission. If a worker feels they are being bullied, they can apply for a Stop Bullying Order forcing the employer and the accused person to remedy the situation or face significant financial penalties. However, in making a decision to impose a Stop Bullying Order, the FWC must consider any investigations being undertaken by the employer and the outcomes of those investigations.

The new laws mean employers should take swift and appropriate steps to respond to formal and informal complaints of bullying and investigate (where appropriate). Depending on the seriousness and complexity of the complaint, an external investigation may be the most appropriate response. Having robust policies and training in place which address bullying in the workplace is also crucial. Employers will also need to ensure that their performance management processes are fair and reasonable.

Synergy Workplace Investigations provides a range of resources and services to help you effectively investigate and manage complaints of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. We can also evaluate your existing policies and complaints management processes and advise on ways to improve.

So what is not workplace bullying?

Your workers may dislike some of your management decisions. As a manager, you are not guilty of bullying or harassment if your decisions can be considered ‘reasonable management action’.

The following actions are acceptable:

Transfers, demotion, disciplinary action, counseling, retrenchment and sacking is not bullying provided there are reasonable grounds.
Performance management is not bullying provided it is justified and not used as a punitive measure but as a genuine tool for improving diminished work performance.