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Anti-bullying Orders - A First Glimpse

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Since the introduction of anti-bullying amendments to the Fair Work Act (2009) in January 2014, many have wondered what these changes will mean in practice. What will anti-bullying orders involve? How detailed with they be? We now have our first glimpse of these amendments at work.

Last Friday, the Fair Work Commission handed down its first order to stop bullying in response to an application from an employee (Matter AB2014/1052). While the order does not provide specifics about the situation, it does go into great detail about required behaviours. For example, the respondent is directed to ‘have no contact with the applicant alone’, ‘make no comment about the applicant’s clothes or appearance’, and ‘not send any emails or texts to the applicant except in emergency circumstances’, ‘complete any exercise at the employers premises before 8:00am’, and the applicant is directed to ‘not arrive at work prior to 8.15am’. Such a response indicates that anti-bullying orders are likely to get into the detail and impose operational requirements.  Breaching any such order may lead to penalties of up to $10,200 for individuals and $51,000 for corporations.

Further orders will provide more insight into how the FWC intends to use the anti-bullying amendments, but there are already some important lessons here for organisations, including:

  • Compliance with anti-bullying orders will require vigilance. For example, carefully regulating the nature of interaction between certain parties within the workplace, is fraught with difficulty both for the individuals and the organisation. Where an order is issued, organisational leaders and HR practitioners will need to consider how to comply including adapting to the operational impacts of the order.
  • Prevention is better than an imposed cure. Organisational leaders and HR practitioners need to ensure that policies, procedures, systems and capabilities are in place that encourage the healthy and timely resolution of conflict. Ignoring problems in the workplace may seem preferable in the short-term, but employees now have external option for their complaints which has the power to impose orders that may have significant operational implications.
Jeremiah Byrnes is PEEL HR’s newest consultant. He is based in Melbourne and is dedicated to supporting Victorian organisations in their efforts to build strong, collaborative and sustainable working environments. You can contact Jeremiah on 0481 518 705