Last month the Australian Fair Work Commission made its first formal bullying finding since the introduction of new anti-bullying laws at the start of 2014.
The Commission found that two employees of a small real estate business subjected to repeated unreasonable behaviour by a property manager had been bullied at work within the meaning of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Commissioner Hampton also found there was a real risk that the bullying would continue despite the manager being moved to a related corporation at a different location.
The Commission made orders by consent that the protagonists should not approach each other or attend the other business premises. The employer was also ordered to address the organisation’s culture and “broader conduct within” by establishing and implementing anti-bullying policies, procedure and training.
The Commission’s orders serve as a reminder that when bullying occurs, immediate steps should be taken to address it and to ensure that it does not continue, including undertaking a robust investigation where appropriate. Failing to do so may result in an anti-bullying claim and orders which may negatively impact the employer’s business including its reputation. It can be seen that the Commission’s orders can be both granular and overtly interventionist – while they were by consent on this occasion, that might not be the case next time.
The other clear message from these orders is that addressing instances of bullying in a reactive manner as they arise (here, moving the manager) will not always be enough – a proactive pre-emptive approach to the problem will play much better in front of the Commission and may avoid both the costs and embarrassment of a public injunction to clean up your act.