By 27 February, the Fair Work Commission had received 66 anti-bullying applications, and a member of the Fair Work Commission, Commissioner Cribb has said that they have the following features:
- most involved either bullying by a supervisor, or by a group of fellow employees
- in one application, the alleged bullies were the manager and staff of another business
- in 2 cases, supervisors alleged bullying by subordinates
- 2 cases involved people who are accused of bullying in other cases filing applications saying that, in fact, they were the victims of bullying
- Most cases arose out of disciplinary action.
Where there are cross-allegations of bullying, there may well be scope for a live-and-let-live resolution, with protocols for future behaviour.
The preponderance of cases arising from a disciplinary context will really focus attention on what is “reasonable management action” and what is a “reasonable manner” of carrying it out. Feedback, performance management, disciplinary processes and termination processes are all reasonable management action if there are valid grounds for them. It is easy to see that calm and professional conduct should be reasonable, and publicly humiliating or yelling at someone would not. But there is a vast range of grey between those white and black situations.
Enquiring into the reasonableness of the action, and the way it is being done, puts the onus on employers to be articulate about what the problem is, why it is a problem, and to find that right level of assertiveness so as not to go beyond “reasonable”. Once we get some decisions, we’ll all get a better idea of where the line lies.