A recent Fair Work Commission decision suggests the category of ‘workers’ protected under its anti-bullying jurisdiction is broad but not unlimited.

In the recent decision of Balthazaar v McGuire and Department of Human Services (Cth) [2014] FWC 2076, Mr Balthazaar complained he was being bullied by staff at a Centrelink office in Gosford, New South Wales.

Mr Balthzaar claimed he was a ‘worker’ of the Department of Human Services, which operates Centrelink, because he received carer’s benefits from the Department. However, Vice President Watson of the Commission disagreed, finding that Mr Balthazaar was not a ‘worker’ for the purposes of the new bullying provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

Although Vice President Watson acknowledged that the “anti-bullying jurisdiction is very broad and extends well beyond the classes of employees covered by other provisions of the Fair Work Act”, the Vice President noted that jurisdiction was not without limits.

The Vice President found that the definition of ‘worker’ does not necessarily require a “formal relationship” between the individuals concerned. However, the Vice President noted that the definition will not cover relationships that are “outside the context of paid or unpaid work in the commonly understood sense”, giving examples such as students performing work for teachers or domestic work performed by family members.

While the Vice President conceded that Mr Balthazaar’s caring responsibilities could be classified as “work” in a broad sense, the fact that Mr Balthazaar received carer’s payments for that work did not mean that he worked for the Department. Accordingly, Mr Balthazaar’s application was dismissed.

This decision suggests that the Commission will be pragmatic in applying its new anti-bullying powers, which should provide some comfort for employers.

However, an employer still retains considerable responsibility for managing bullying in the workplace.

Please contact the Workplace Relations, Employment and Safety Team if you require advice on managing bullying in the workplace and in particular dealing with bullying complaints made to the Fair Work Commission.