BullyingFrom the first of January 2014, there will new workplace bullying laws in place in a bid to eradicate and protect Australians from bullying in the workplace.

There are approximately 3,500 applications lodged each year for workplace bullying cases, the estimated cost of which is between $6 billion and $36 billion on the Australian economy. On top of this, a single workplace bullying case could cost an organisation anywhere from $17,000 – $24,000.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment’s report from October 2012 stated, “workplace bullying, we just want it to stop.” And in an effort to stop this toxic culture in workplaces, an all-encompassing law has been created to ensure that any bullying in the workplace is seen as illegal.

The law comes in the form of a new part to the Fair Work Act 2009 titled “Workers Bullied at Work” (click here for more information). This new part of the Act is not just limited in application to employees, but rather encompasses any form of worker (contractors, outworkers, work experience, etc.), and it defines workplace bullying as, “if an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behave unreasonably towards a worker, or a group of workers which the worker is a member and that behavior creates a risk to health and safety.”

In order to identify if one is a victim of workplace bullying, it is necessary to identify if at least one of the following is satisfied:

  • There must be a repeated behaviour
  • The behaviour must be unreasonable
  • The behaviour must create a risk to health and safety.

It is important to note that it is not a requirement that the behaviour in question is a risk to health and safety of the workers being bullied; it could apply to anyone who comes into contact with the workplace or the work it provides.

In the event that the defence to the complaint lodged is something along the lines of “reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable way”, this may still breach the provisions as the Act does not identify what “reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable way” actually encompasses. The employer must provide sufficient evidence to the Fair Work Commission that their performance management is “reasonable management action” which has been carried out in a “reasonable” manner. This in itself may seem simple enough it could tie up valuable resources and time and prove to be a costly course of action as employees are required to be part of the hearing.

Review your bullying procedures and processes and get some advice as to what reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable way actually means in your workplace.