Australian workplaces have long been subject to anti-bullying laws, but effective January 1, 2014, workers have an additional avenue in which to bring workplace bullying complaints against employers.

Australian workers have been able to lodge workplace bullying complaints under workplace health and safety laws to the various health and safety authorities in each state of Australia. Now, the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) also has jurisdiction to deal with workplace bullying complaints as a result of the former government's pre-election amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (the Act). The Commission has already received a small number of bullying claims, with some lodged as early as January 1. The Commission has not released the number of complaints it has received under the new amendments and is unlikely to do so ahead of its standard quarterly data release which will occur next in March.

Under the new system, a worker is now able to lodge an application to obtain an order that workplace bullying cease if it is found to be occurring in the workplace.

Under the Act, a worker is bullied at work if an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker or a group of workers of which the alleged victim is a member. The Act clarifies that reasonable management action that is carried out in a reasonable manner does not amount to bullying.

While the Commission cannot award damages for bullying claims under the amendment, it can order that bullying cease. If an employer does not take appropriate action, the worker can apply to the federal court, which can order fines against a corporation of up to $51,000 or against an individual of up to $10,200 (Australian dollars).

Workers may also lodge a workers' compensation claim with respect to any alleged illness or injury flowing from workplace bullying.

If recent unfair dismissal statistics are any indication of what is to come, Australian employers should expect to experience a steady rise in bullying complaints through this new system.

Any company with Australian operations should consider implementing the following steps:

  • Ensure that you have an up-to-date anti-bullying policy in place for your Australian workplaces.
  • Ensure that your anti-bullying policy contains an internal complaint procedure.
  • Ensure that all workers are regularly trained on equal opportunity matters including workplace bullying.