Unfair Dismissal and Bullying

The Federal Court orders re-instatement of dismissed employee on working visa

In a pivotal Federal Court ruling, Justice Perram has spotlighted the intricacies of employment law, particularly concerning the legality of termination practices and the protections afforded to visa-sponsored employees. This case deals with the complex terrain of whether an employee’s termination was a direct result of their inquiries about unpaid bonuses, which, if substantiated, could constitute an unlawful dismissal giving rise to a claim for breach of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“FW Act”). It also demonstrates when a Court may make an order to reinstate a visa holder’s employment, post termination.

An Outlook for 2023 – The Looming Issue of Redundancy

As we commence 2023, there is no doubt that this year will bring various challenges to many employers. As a result of various factors, including high inflation rates, rising interest rates, a slowing economy and lingering effects of the Covid 19 Pandemic, it is likely that this year will see organisations experience uncertainty and/or financial hardship. Recent changes to legislation will also put upward pressure on a number of businesses. This will likely result in organisations opting to restructure their businesses or make staff members redundant as a way to cut costs or down-size their businesses.

Termination of the Employment Relationship

In our final publication of the Back-to-Basics Series, we look at the ways in which an employment relationship can be concluded and the specific steps to follow in order to avoid seeing the inside of a courtroom and/or making substantial unplanned financial contributions to the outbound employee’s bank balance. Furthermore, careful management when bringing an employment relationship to an end, for whatever reason, can be achieved so that the departing employee does not leave disgruntled and likely to damage the business’ reputation.

The Legislative Foundations of Australia’s Industrial System

One of the primary purposes of the Fair Work Act is to create minimum requirements, protections and obligations in order to provide a balanced framework for cooperative and productive workplace relations that promote national economic prosperity for all Australians. The Fair Work Act achieves this objective by implementing a number of mechanisms including the National Employment Standards, and the creation of Modern Awards, Enterprise Agreements, protections for unfair dismissal, provisions that protect against adverse action and sham contracting, all of which are obligations that employers must abide by and can result in significant legal remedies where a breach occurs.

Do Employers Owe a Positive Duty to Prevent Sexual Harassment at Work?

In 2018, sexual harassment was at the forefront of the public psyche. In response to an industrial landscape rife with sexual harassment, the Respect@Work campaign was launched. After two years of research, in March 2020, the Australian Human Rights Commission (“AHRC”) released the Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (“the Report”) which made 55 recommendations to prevent sexual harassment and to improve responses to complaints. Among these recommendations was the concept of imposing a ‘positive’ duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The rationale was that this approach will lighten the burden on victims and attempt to overcome circumstances where employees feel they are unable to make complaints or adequately resolve issues, due to fears around job security or being treated differently.

Workplace Bullying: Not Only Harmful; Costly, Too

Workplace Bullying as an issue is not new, however it remains very prevalent in Australian workplaces. In fact, in research conducted by the Australian Workplace Barometer at the University of Adelaide in 2021, Australia ranked third worst in bullying rates compared to 34 countries in Europe. In research conducted by the same organisation in 2019, it found that two thirds of employees suffered from bullying at work.

Bullying in the workplace is very bad for business. Not only can it result in significant legal claims, but more often than not, it translates into lost revenue as a result of personal leave days, absenteeism, lack of motivation and productivity and poor morale and turnover of employees.

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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