It is vital both employers and employees understand exactly what 'workplace bullying' is

Anti-bullying law not designed to protect employees’ feelings

In a recent case an Aboriginal medical service receptionist’s anti-bullying application was dismissed. The applicant alleged she had been bullied by three of her colleagues. She claimed they behaved inappropriately towards her, made comments which made her feel uncomfortable and affected her mental state.

The applicant alleged bullying behaviour she experienced involved her employees “checking up” on her and giving compliments to the other receptionist, but not her. She also found it “confronting” when the clinic coordinator told her to return to the reception after it had been left unattended for 40 minutes.

The anti-bullying jurisdiction is designed to protect employees from repetitious bullying behaviour. Section 789FC of the Fair Work Act 2009 enables workers who reasonably believe they are being bullied at work to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying.

Section 789FD of the Fair Work Act 2009 defines when a worker is bullied at workCommissioner Cloghan dismissed the application and stated “the alleged bullying behaviour was over estimated and insubstantial”. Commissioner Cloghan stated the bullying jurisdiction “does not provide for an applicant’s self-belief to trump all other factors”.

His decision reinforces the important distinction between reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner, and an employee’s self-belief that they had been bullied. Self-belief does not automatically transform an action into ‘bullying’.

How to Avoid Bullying Actions

Any application of alleged bullying is highly contextual, the applicant’s perspective is balanced against the conduct of others. Thus, it is vital both employers and employees understand exactly what ‘workplace bullying’ is. Workplace training and information can assist this.

Our previous article Understanding and Preventing Workplace Bullying explains what is workplace bullying, the risks from bullying as well as how to avoid the Fair Work Commission’s involvement.

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