The Fair Work Commission has rejected an employee's claim that she was bullied because she was performance-managed, finding that the performance management was "reasonable management action undertaken in a reasonable manner", even where the organisation had failed to effectively performance manage its employees in preceding years.

Background

The employee was working as a case worker consultant for The Salvation Army's Employment Plus job seeking service. In this role, the employee was required to assist job seeker clients in becoming "job ready" and obtaining employment. These job seekers were classified into four streams depending on their job readiness.

The "consultant" job description that applied to the employee required that consultants service all four streams of job seekers. However, the employee had historically specialised in servicing only "Stream 1" job seekers with low barriers. She objected to a direction in mid-2014 that she service other streams, and particularly "Stream 4" clients with multiple barriers to employment, such as homelessness, substance abuse, or mental health issues.

Performance review reasonable, even where PM systems new

In her 2014 performance review, the employee's performance was assessed as "not meeting all requirements" in relation to some performance criteria, notably in relation to the employee's refusal to service Stream 4 clients. The employee claimed that the performance management process amounted to bullying because it was unreasonable, in particular because the requirement to service Stream 4 clients amounted to an unreasonable change to her job, and she did not feel safe working with this stream of clients.

The employee also claimed that her performance had been hindered by various increases to her workload, including on account of high staff turnover during 2014 and changes to the employer's booking system.

In evidence, the employer admitted that there had been a failure in the past to assess individual performance effectively,  and that changes in 2014 aimed to improve staff management and efficiency.  However, Commissioner Tim Lee found that while the introduction of individual performance management amounted to "a significant change" for the employee, he accepted that, on the evidence, "the manner in which it has been introduced or administered does not appear to be unreasonable".

Change to duties reasonable because of job description

It was also accepted that until mid 2014 the employee had been required to service only Stream 1 job seekers.  However, in considering the employee's position description, Commissioner Lee found that requiring the employee to perform her role in accordance with the position description (which clearly required her to service all streams of job seekers), "could hardly be said to constitute bullying behaviour".

The Commission also did not accept that the employee had an unreasonable workload or that requiring her to work with Stream 4 job seekers would result in a risk to her health and safety.

Reasonable management action undertaken reasonably

This decision confirms that performance management undertaken reasonably (and with regard to the employee's position description) will not constitute bullying.  It is also a useful example for employers looking to introduce new performance management programs or more strictly apply existing performance criteria.  While these management actions may result in a significant change in the working environment , they will not necessarily amount to bullying where the method of implementation is reasonable.