The Fair Work Commission has had its new anti-bullying powers since 1 January 2014 and already it has received more than 40 complaints of workers being bullied at work.

While the media commentary has focused on the impact of the bullying laws in the workforce, sporting bodies will be surprised to learn that they may also be subject to the new anti-bullying laws.

Sporting bodies that are incorporated companies, such as national and state sporting organisations, or incorporated sporting associations in the Territories all fall within the Commission’s anti-bullying jurisdiction.

Under the new laws, a “worker” includes any person carrying out work in any capacity for a person conducting a business. While an employee will certainly be a “worker”, the definition may also extend to:

  • coaches and support personnel engaged to train or assist squads and teams;
  • athletes selected for squads and teams to represent a sporting body, a State, a Territory or Australia; and
  • volunteers, such as officials, appointed to assist in the management of a sporting event.

One of these workers will be “bullied at work” if:

  • while performing work, he or she is repeatedly subjected to unreasonable behaviour by one or more individuals, regardless of whether those individuals work with the worker or are members of the general public; and
  • that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

While reasonable management action is not bullying, there are a number of situations that arise in a sporting context that may involve bullying at work, including:

  • a coach verbally or physically intimidating an athlete;
  • an athlete being the victim of practical jokes by other athletes on a squad or team; and
  • a volunteer official being verbally abused by spectators at an event.

A worker who believes he or she has been bullied at work may make a complaint to the Commission, which must start dealing with the claim within 14 days. The penalties for failing to comply with a direction made by the Commission can be as high as $51,000 for a corporation and $10,200 for an individual.

A sporting body can reduce the risk of bullying complaints by ensuring that appropriate policies and procedures are in place that:

  • identify what is, and what is not, bullying;
  • make clear that the sporting body condemns bullying;
  • encourage any person who believe he or she has been bullied to make acomplaint; and
  • establish a process for resolving any formal complaint (whether by informal resolution, mediation, an investigation or a tribunal hearing).

This content can be included in a member protection policy.

While certain sporting bodies may not be subject to these new anti-bullying laws, it is important to note that other laws, such as State or Territory work health and safety laws, may also require appropriate policies and procedures be in place to address bullying in sport.