The tsunami of stop bullying applications expected to be lodged with by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) after 1  January 2014, was instead a trickle of only 343 application in the first six months of the jurisdiction, according to the FWC’s Annual Report for 2013-2014.

In the six month period ending 30 June 2014, the FWC received more than 100,000 website inquiries and more than 3,500 telephone inquiries relating  to the new workplace bullying jurisdiction. The 103,500 plus inquiries did not however, translate to a high number of applications. Instead, only 343 stop bullying applications were received. Out of those 343 applications 270 anti-bullying conferences/hearings were held and 197 applications were finalised. Of those 197 applications:

  • 59 were withdrawn early in the case management process;
  • 34 were withdrawn prior to proceedings;
  • 63 were resolved during proceedings;
  • 20 were withdrawn after conference/hearing and before a decision;
  • 21 were resolved by way of a decision. Of those 21, 20 were dismissed (3 being dismissed on jurisdictional grounds; 4 dismissed as bullying was not found or there was no risk of bullying continuing; 13 dismissed as the worker didn’t pursue the claim or the claim was not properly made) and only one case resulted in a finding that bullying had occurred and was likely to continue occurring and a stop bullying order was made.

The numbers stand in stark contrast to the unfair dismissal jurisdiction which received 14,797 applications in the same period.

Despite the fact the anti-bullying jurisdiction has received few claims to date, the number of claims being made is increasing and employers should remain vigilant. Workplace bullying is a serious work health and safety issue and can result in adverse consequences for both employers and employees.

The prudent employer

Senior Deputy President Harrison (SDP Harrison) of the FWC, in his key note address to the Sydney University annual labour law conference, suggests that in order to address workplace bullying, employers need:

  •  good policies outlining how people are to treat each other at work;
  • internal grievance procedures, and to monitor those grievance procedures to identify problem areas or issues;
  • employee assistance programs and harassment contact officers;
  • to give managers authority to resolve people management issues and hold them accountable when they failed to treat people fairly and appropriately;
  • to provide training in people skills to their line managers; and
  • to give priority to interpersonal skills as a criterion in deciding who to appoint to managerial positions.

In addition to the suggestions by SDP Harrison, a prudent employer should also ensure that they:

  • deal expeditiously, fairly and effectively with bullying claims when they are made;
  • have a robust investigation procedure that ensures the likelihood that workers will trust the process and outcome (reducing the chance of third party intervention);
  • promote positive leadership styles and behaviour at work through employee and management training programs, including training aimed at the standards of behaviour expected in the workplace;
  • have appropriately trained HR and management who are capable of dealing with bullying allegations;
  • have performance management processes that are fair, reasonable and appropriately undertaken;
  • are proactive in the workplace and assess where and how bullying may occur in the organisation, and take corrective action.