Be Ready For New Workplace Bullying Laws
New workplace bullying laws come into operation on January 1 and it’s worth getting your business ready for it now. Changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 enable allegations of bullying in the workplace to be handled by the Fair Work Commission. Any worker who reasonably believes he or she has been bullied can apply to Australia’s industrial tribunal for an order.
The Labor government changed the Act on recommendations from a parliamentary committee which found workplace bullying was costing the economy up to $36 billion a year and employers were having to pay out an average $17,000 to $24,000 per claim.
For the first time there will be an all-encompassing law that makes bullying unlawful. Before the change bullying came under a series of general laws including workers’ compensation, health and safety and common law claims.
Some changes to machinery of the process are expected to be introduced by the Abbott government including an as yet undefined new “filter process” to ensure bullying complaints go through a process that ensures the employer knows about the claim before it goes to the commission.
The commission can order the bullying to stop but can’t award compensation. The commission must start dealing with the complaint within 14 days of receiving it.
If the employer doesn’t act to stop the bullying the worker can apply to the Federal Court which can impose fines of $51,000 on a corporation and $10,200 on an individual.
Kym Luke, employment law specialist at Stacks Law Firm, said the changes will make it possible to deal with bullying more actively than is currently possible.
But she warns there could be an unexpected ramification in that the definition of “worker” in the Act goes beyond simply employee. It includes contractors, subcontractors, outworkers, apprentices, trainees and people on work experience. Even company directors and corporate board members may be able to claim they are being bullied and go to the Fair Work Commission.
“This means company managers must ensure they have an effective workplace bullying policy in place that spells out what sort of bullying behavior is unacceptable, and a process by which a person who feels bullied has an internal complaint system to go to,” she said.
“The legal definitions of bullying in the workplace are now clearer than ever, and it would be wise for both employers and employees to get experienced legal advice on the new laws and how they can prepare for them.
“There may be questions of bullying of a fellow worker in social media that is done outside the workplace, but can still come under the definition of workplace bullying.”