Employers: be aware of new workplace bullying laws

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There has been some recent media coverage regarding the new bullying laws that came into effect on 1 January 2014. In particular, the Newcastle Herald on 28 December 2013 pointed out that members of the general public abusing staff members could be caught by the new laws.

We have previously covered the main points of the new legislation here.

In summary, employees who believe they are being bullied at work will be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission to have the harassment stopped. In this case, employers will be brought before the Commission within 14 days, so it is imperative that your house is in order well before any claims are made. Although the Commission cannot order monetary compensation in favour of employees, it does have the power to fine employers if the bullying does not cease (up to $10,200).

It’s not just the traditional bullying or harassment of one employee by another that could be caught by the new laws. Some other possible scenarios for consideration:

1.       Employees alleging that they have been bullied during formal performance management.

2.       Employees alleging that you do not have effective ways to respond to bullying by members of the general public including clients.

As employers, the following key points need your attention immediately in case a bullying claim is brought against you under these new laws:

1.       A policy and procedure to deal with bullying and harassment which includes a procedure for how to lodge a grievance and how it will be dealt with.

2.       A performance management policy so that you cannot be accused of performing this process in an unfair or intimidating way. Reasonable performance management is a defence for an employer to a claim for bullying. A clear written process on how this will occur and following that process is your best protection.

3.       Clear policies on how to deal with difficult clients and members of the public.

Of course, not only do you need to have the written policies in place, your employees need to be aware of the existence of the policies, you need evidence that the employees agree to be bound by the policies, employees need adequate training on the policies, and you need to ensure that everyone follows the policies.

We can help you with preparation of the policies and any training that your employees or managers may require. We can also help with any investigation that you consider may be required on receipt of a bullying complaint.

Contact our office to discuss this further or to arrange an appointment to sort out your policies.

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