Unfair Dismissal and Bullying

The Government’s Response to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s Report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

We have written previous articles regarding the #metoo movement and sexual harassment and what this means in the context of employment law. Community expectations are rapidly changing in this area especially as the issues of sexual harassment and sex discrimination have come to the fore in recent times as a result of the increased media attention following allegations being aired about sexual assault and inappropriate conduct in our Federal Parliament.  Sex discrimination issues continue to garner political and media attention, with the lens of sex discrimination being applied to the treatment of Australia Post’s former CEO, Christine Holgate by the Federal Government.

The Fair Work Commission Anti-Bullying Jurisdiction: Has the Fair Work Commission Stopped the Bullies?

Under Part 6-4B of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“Act”), the Fair Work Commission (“Commission”) has the power to make a ‘stop bulling order’ when a worker has been bullied at work, unless the alleged bullying conduct amounts to “reasonable management action” carried out in a “reasonable manner”. This jurisdiction, which commenced on 1 January 2014 with widespread community support and in particular from the Commonwealth government, has been in operation for over 4 years, and in this time, it has had much lower rates of utilisation than expected. Evidently, much the same can be said for the success rates of those who have pursued a bullying application through the Commission.

“Sticks and Stones”: The Fair Work Commission Anti-Bullying Jurisdiction

Under Part 6-4B of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“Act”) the Fair Work Commission (“Commission”) has the power to make a “stop bulling order” when a worker has been bullied at work, unless the alleged bullying conduct amounts to “reasonable management action” carried out in a “reasonable manner”.

Despite being welcomed for providing greater legislative protection to workers against inappropriate workplace behaviour, the anti-bullying jurisdiction which commenced on 1 January 2014 has had much lower rates of utilisation that expected. The Commission has however delivered some key decisions which provide some clarification around its scope to address and remedy workplace bullying.

Unfair Dismissal: Avoiding a “Cash Grab” in the Fair Work Commission

In the last few weeks we have appeared in numerous unfair dismissal matters. The level of activity in this jurisdiction is not unusual given that in the period between October to December 2015 the Fair Work Commission (“Commission”) received a total of 3636 unfair dismissal applications. Why is this jurisdiction so popular? It may be due to the fact that 49% of all conciliations settle by way of a monetary payment to the employee within the range of $2,000 to $4,000, and 79% for a payment of less than $8,000. As is often the case, such payments are made because an employer wishes to make the problem “go away”, which can be extremely dissatisfying in circumstances where an employee has followed the appropriate termination procedures and best practices.

Anti-Bullying – What it means for Employers

The Commission needed to determine firstly whether the conduct under examination was in fact behavior that was repeated unreasonable behavior. The Commission stated that what is required is “repeated unreasonable behavior by the individual or individuals towards the Applicant worker”. The Commission recognized that there is no specific number of incidents required for the behavior to represent “repeated”, provided there is more than one occurrence and nor does the same specific behavior need to be repeated.

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