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Commission to Target ‘Bullies’

By David Bates, MD, Better HR – Australia’s leading HR and employment relations service for employers

The Commonwealth Government has announced an increase in funding of $5m per year to the Fair Work Commission (previously known as Fair Work Australia) to ensure it can fully exercise its new powers to hear complaints about alleged workplace bullying.

While actual bullying is a very serious issue that should always be addressed, Better HR is very concerned the new powers granted to the Commission will lead to a surge in unfounded claims being lodged by unhappy employees.

Every day we hear from employers who tell us they find it increasingly difficult to manage employees because they fear being called a bully. It seems any reasonable instruction issued by an employer can be seen as bullying by today’s increasingly ‘rights-aware’ employees.

Just last month we assisted a subscriber respond to an allegation of bullying made by an angry employee after the employer refused to buy her a return ticket to Europe! While this is an extreme case, we routinely handle ‘bullying’ claims arising from poor performance appraisals, request for medical certificates following extended absences and reasonable disciplinary action.

Under the Commission’s new powers, all of these claims can be lodged directly by the employee with the Commission which, in turn, will force the employer to direct their valuable and limited time and attention away from running their business and focus instead on seeking advice and preparing their case. We don’t believe that’s either right or fair.

Bullying has no place in modern Australian workplaces, but frivolous claims should have no place either.