In a case that will interest employers and managers alike, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently ruled in unfair dismissal proceedings that a company had a valid reason for dismissing a manager who was found to have bullied his staff through micromanagement.

In Peter Carroll v Karingal Inc [2016] FWC 3709 the FWC found that the manager had been correctly dismissed for engaging in conduct which included micromanagement and aggressive, controlling and bullying behaviour towards his direct reports.

Mr Carroll was employed by Karingal Inc (Karingal) as an audit and risk manager. In May 2015 two separate formal complaints regarding his behaviour and management style were made against him by two members of his team. The employer engaged an independent investigator to investigate the complaints against Mr Carroll, which included allegations that he had engaged in the following conduct:

  • Counselling a staff member after she sent an email to the whole team instead of directly to him.
  • Sitting with a staff member as she drafted a document to correct her written expression.
  • Introducing spreadsheets for his team members to complete so he could monitor their work.
  • Micromanaging his staff by telling them they couldn’t attend meetings with internal and external stakeholders without him present
  • Focusing on the technical detail of the work performed by his staff member in a manner which was over the top and which caused the team to become unproductive and to feel disempowered and frustrated. 

The investigator found that the allegations were substantiated and the employer terminated Mr Carroll for "serious and sustained bullying of staff under his management and supervision, which adversely affected their health, safety and welfare." Mr Carroll's conduct was found to breach Karingal's code of conduct, its work health and safety policy and its bullying and harassment policy.

Interestingly, the FWC accepted that Mr Carroll honestly believed that he was doing the best for the company and for his staff and was unaware of the effects his behaviour had on those he managed. Despite Mr Carroll's good intentions, the FWC concluded that "the cumulative effect of his conduct and behaviours was one of significant and systematic micromanaging" and that his management style caused his staff "great distress and anxiety."

While the dismissal of Mr Carroll was upheld, an appeal was recently filed against the decision. Look out for our report on the appeal in a future edition of Workplace View.

Counselling a staff member after she sent an email to the whole team instead of directly to him.

Lessons for Employers

The Karingal decision highlights micromanagement as another form of behaviour that can constitute bullying. However, it is a behaviour which some may view as passive rather than overt, and one the offending party may not have any insight into. Nonethless, as shown in this case, the cumulative effect may be significant for some employees.

In light of the decision, employers should review their bullying and harassment policy and their health and safety policy to ensure they cover behaviour which may cause other employees distress or anxiety. It is also important that managers lead by example and ensure their conduct does not pose a risk to the wellbeing of other employees. Where an employer is on notice that a manager has adopted a controlling style, it should consider whether that manager would benefit from coaching or training to mitigate the risks of a bullying complaint or claim.