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Stop bullying complaint exposes poor HR practices

August 17, 2016

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A worker (which includes both contractors and employees) who is being bullied at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying.

This does not allow the employee to claim compensation or reinstatement – it is literally a direction by the Commission to prevent further instances of the bullying.

These orders often involve creative solutions, such as directing the bully and the victim to be given different shifts or offices on separate floors. Other orders may require the employer to implement training, policies and practices to prevent and address bullying behaviour. The Commission takes a practical approach in these matters and makes such orders as it believes are necessary to prevent the activity from recurring.

The Commission will only grant stop bullying orders if it believes that:

  1. the worker has actually been bullied at work; and
  2. there is a risk that the bullying will continue.

What’s the risk?

While the success rate of stop bullying applications is fairly low, it does expose the employer to unwanted scrutiny from the Commission. In an application heard by the FWC earlier this month, no order for stop bullying was made despite various incidents of verbal abuse and belittling comments, as the Commission found that there was no risk of the bullying continuing due to the worker not being offered any future shifts. However, during the hearing, various practices of the employer were uncovered and criticised by the Commission, including:

  • no published grievance process
  • a lack of an appropriate policy framework
  • no process for employees to raise concerns other than with their direct managers
  • no oversight or internal checking mechanisms
  • a workplace practice of “punishing” employees who raise complaints by depriving them of shifts
  • little to no accountability of site management practices in relation to complaint handling

These criticisms did as much reputational damage as a successful application would have, creating a frying pan-fire situation for the employer who has now been exposed for its poor practices and procedures. Businesses should ensure that they have robust policies in place including a clear and practical grievance process, and an anti-bullying and harassment policy.

For more information on bullying, policies, and what this means for you, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.