Can the Fair Work Commission have a say in how your employees interact at work?

Since 1 January 2014, an employee who believes they are being or have been bullied at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the bullying at work. If upheld, the FWC will issue an order for the bullying to stop. But what does one look like?

What is a stop bullying at work order?

A stop bullying at work order, is an outcome following a decision made by the FWC where they have been satisfied there is a risk the employee will continue to be bullied by the particular individual or group in the workplace. In an attempt to stop the bullying behaviour from continuing in the workplace, the FWC will issue orders to the parties (the employee victim, the employee bully and the employer) that’s legally binding.

What do these orders potentially entail?

Firstly it would be dependent on a number of factors: the nature and details of the complaint/s including what allegations are up held, the number of people involved, who is involved, the nature of the business operations and the organisational structure. The order would be like a set of commitments (or commandments perhaps?) in how the parties will resolve and or prevent further bullying from occurring in the workplace.

The only real life example that the above statement is based upon is the case known only as Applicant Vs. Respondent (PR548852) where these orders were made by consent following a conference between the parties in March of 2014. The backstory of this case is a bit of a mystery too, as unfortunately no details were released by the FWC, but we will get a good idea of what one might look like below.

For the alleged bully:

1. Shall complete any exercise at the employer’s premises before 8.00 a.m.

2. Shall have no contact with the applicant alone.

3. Shall make no comment about the applicant’s clothes or appearance.

4. Shall not send any emails or texts to the applicant except in emergency circumstances.

5. Shall not raise any work issues without notifying the Chief Operating Officer of the respondent, or his subordinate, beforehand.

For the alleged victim:

1. The applicant shall not arrive at work before 8.15 a.m.

The parties were also given the opportunity to approach the FWC to have the matter relisted for a further conference should there be any difficulties implementing the orders.

So what happens if they are left in the lunch room…and they’re alone?…

There are a lot of potential impacts a stop bullying order could have to a business. In this particular case and despite the assumption these orders were performed in a mediative way, the FWC has demonstrated their jurisdictional power in ordering businesses to augment their operations when it comes to daily employee interactions and business management activities affecting the individuals or groups of individuals involved.

Have good prevention strategies in place

It’s therefore imperative for employers to keep on top of workplace bullying prevention strategies which should include:

  • Regular policy reviews/renewing
  • Responding quickly and appropriately to complaints of workplace bullying
  • Appropriately investigating complaints of bullying and treating each case seriously and sensitively
  • Ensuring selection of managers with strong interpersonal skills and alignment with organisational values
  • Managers and staff are adequately and regularly trained in anti-bullying policies

What’s also worth keeping in mind and is good motivation for businesses to take an even more proactive approach to anti-bullying, there is no requirement for the employees’ complaint to be dealt with by the employer prior to the employee going to the FWC with their application for a stop bullying at work order. So its important employer’s encourage employees to initially seek resolution through the employer in the first instance. Remembering that if the complaint does come to the business first, that it’s dealt with quickly and taken seriously.

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