Purcell v Farah and Mercy Education [2016] FWC 2308

In July 2016, Deputy President Gostencnik of the Fair Work Commission concluded that the principal of St Aloysius College, Ms Farah, had bullied an employee, Ms Purcell, in circumstances that were described as a ‘sad indictment’ on all involved. Ms Purcell had made 16 bullying allegations against Ms Farah under the Fair Work Act 2009 of which only four were found to have occurred.

The Deputy President concluded that the 12 ‘unsuccessful’ allegations of bullying failed because they were based only on Ms Purcell’s ‘suggestive perceptions’ of Ms Farah’s motives behind her conduct, and very little actual evidence. Ms Purcell argued that the conduct which was the subject of these allegations, such as Ms Farah glaring at Ms Purcell, amounted to bullying because she believed they were deliberate attempts to make her feel singled out and anxious. However, the Deputy President described Ms Purcell as being ‘a little bit precious’ in how she was interpreting Ms Farah’s conduct in these instances.

Of the four allegations that were found to amount to bullying conduct, the Deputy President stated they were instances of ‘unreasonable’ management action. An example of this conduct was a decision to make Ms Purcell, an employee of 20 years, undertake an induction course for new employees upon returning from six months long service leave. It was found that this conduct would likely distress Ms Purcell, and no reasonable explanation could be given for the decision.

Employers will need a sound and logical basis for making any decision in relation to an employee to ensure their conduct is regarded as ‘reasonable management action’ as opposed to bullying. Additionally, all persons in a workplace should take proactive steps to resolve any concern they may have to avoid a situation of ‘mountains being made out of mole hills’.