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The Fair Work Commission recently ruled that a manager’s micromanaging behaviour of employees amounted to bullying, and that such behaviour was a valid reason for terminating the manager’s employment.

Background

Mr Carroll was employed by Karingal in December 2013 as an Audit and Risk Manager.

It was submitted in evidence by the employer that when Mr Carroll commenced employment at Karingal, he ‘said all the right things and seemed very personable’. However, his conduct changed within the first couple of weeks when things ‘started to get progressively worse’.

Karingal terminated Mr Carroll’s employment for breaches of its Code of Conduct, Work, Health and Safety Policy, and Bullying and Harassment Policy. This decision was based on formal complaints, which were investigated by an independent organisation engaged by Karingal.

The bullying behaviour

Mr Carroll’s micromanaging behavior which constituted bullying included:

●  Making employees complete detailed spreadsheets and charts which, in return, made the employee’s work increasingly unproductive and affected their confidence in performing their role;

● Limiting employees’ interaction with internal stakeholders and external stakeholders;

● Sitting with employees to watch them work; and

● Making jokes, unwelcome comments and correcting the words of an employee from a non-English speaking background.

Decision

Several employees of Karingal whom Mr Carroll managed gave compelling evidence that his micromanaging behaviour caused them great stress and anxiety, and led to them feeling as though they could not raise concerns with him.

Mr Carroll submitted to the Commission, that he believed he was ‘doing what was best for his employer and his staff’ and was ‘unaware of the effects that his behaviour had on employees who reported to him’.

In response, the employer argued that regardless of Mr Caroll’s intentions not to bully employees, his behaviour made the employees who reported to him feel increasingly inferior and disempowered in their roles.

Commissioner Cirkovic found that the effect of Mr Carroll’s conduct and behaviour amounted to significant and systematic micromanaging, and was satisfied that Mr Carroll had breached Karingal’s Code of Conduct, Work, Health and Safety Policy, and Bullying and Harassment Policy. On this basis, Karingal’s decision to dismiss Mr Caroll constituted a valid reason and was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

Lesson for employers

This case outlines the importance of employers having in place appropriate Codes of Conduct and other relevant workplace policies. Having such Codes and policies in place can enable employers to successfully defend unfair dismissal applications where employees have engaged in bullying behaviour.

In addition, the case outlines that a manager’s micromanaging behaviour can constitute bullying, even when a perpetrator’s conduct is well-intentioned and he/she is unaware of the effects of such behaviour.

Source: Carroll v Karingal Inc [FWC 3709]

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