BetterHR was contacted by a business over an employee who had made a bullying claim in the Fair Work Commission against the employer and various employees within the business.
Bullying happens at work when:
- a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers
- the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Examples of bullying include:
- behaving aggressively towards others
- teasing or playing practical jokes
- pressuring someone to behave inappropriately
- excluding someone from work-related events
- unreasonable work demands.
Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for their workers. This is embodied by an employer’s duty to take all reasonable practicable steps to manage and prevent health and safety risks in the workplace. In respect of workplace bullying, this duty means providing a working environment free from the risk of bullying and its associated harms.
If an employer fails to take all reasonable practicable steps to ensure an employee is protected from the risk of bullying and its associated harms, they may be at risk of a claim for breaching their legal obligations. Should such a claim be made, the employee would not need to prove that there was any actual harm to their health and safety but just that there was a risk to their health and safety created by the bullying behaviour alleged.
Given the nature of this legal test, it goes without saying that prevention of bullying and the corresponding risk to health and safety in the first instance is any employer’s best bet.
Other laws, such as the Fair Work Act, also protects most workers from bullying in the workplace. Many organisations also have policies and procedures to prevent and respond to bullying.
Bullying is often considered an individual or interpersonal issue. However, broader environmental factors, such as poor organisational culture and a lack of leadership are in fact the main hazards.
Bullying cases can result in significant damage to an organisation. For example, it can lead to a negative work culture, a high turnover rate and damage to reputation within the industry. There is also a financial impact and impact on the organisation’s ability to attract and retain top talent.
BetterHR planned and advised on appropriate strategies for protecting the company’s interests including responding to the claim, as well as to understand the legal jurisdiction of the Commission and the potential risks in relation to such claims. There was no admission of liability by the company and none was established in the ensuing mediation. The company agreed to have their workplace policies and processes reviewed and updated by BetterHR to ensure ongoing compliance. The matter has been closed by the Commission with no compensation awarded to the employee.