Once the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 is passed on to the Federal parliament, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) can enforce to every Australian business company that they receive and act on complaints from their employees against workplace bullying. As early as July 2013, employees who filed complaints can go to the FWC for claims.
So what is this anti-bullying act? And how is bullying determined anyway?
The bill defines “bullying” as any harmful behaviour committed repetitiously and unreasonably to an applicant, worker, or a group of workers of a company. It is bullying when it brings danger and threat to the recipient’s health and safety.
Now the behaviour may be identified unreasonable depending on the circumstances in which the alleged bullying occurred. The person who manifested the behaviour or who is commonly called the “Bully” is deemed unreasonable if his/her act happens to be victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening to another person or to a group of people. Otherwise, the behaviour cannot be considered bullying
In effect, the bill will impose discipline especially to company managers and employers who are abusive to their employees. Now, they will have to make sure that they are making the right decisions and that they are directing work lawfully and in fairness to employees. The bill will create equal treatment between the relationship of the employer and the employee.
But who determines if it is bullying or not?
The FWC will determine if the case filed is about bullying or not. They will take the preliminary step of informing the department for every application submitted. Depending on the case of the considered applications, the FWC may conduct a conference between the parties involved or they may hold a formal hearing for resolution. If the FWC is satisfied of the evidences that the complainant-worker was indeed bullied in the workplace, they will order the bullying to be stopped immediately.
The FWC will require the company employer to monitor the bully and as well as the complainant. Upon the agreement between the FWC and the company, the company policy against bullying must be reviewed and it must be revised if needed in order for the company to become compliant to the law against bullying.
The FWC will then refer the complainant to a Work Health Safety (WHS) regulator for claims. On the other hand, the company employer needs to have a clear understanding of their legal responsibilities under WHS legislation. This will minimize the risks brought to health and safety by workplace bullying. This will ensure that processes are in place to manage the risks.
The FWC cannot award compensation to the bullied worker. However, the FWC can penalize the company employer if they are proven to break any of the agreements. The penalty can be in the form of a fine or disqualification of business.
And how long does it take before a complaint is addressed?
The bill requires fast response on the processing of an application. The FWC is required to deal with the matter within 14 days from the time an application was submitted. Once a conference or hearing is convened, the company must send representatives to attend the FWC hearing. They must be willing to participate by disclosing any information required by the FWC.
Will this open a room for improvement for the employers?
It must be every company’s goal to take good care of their employees. Hence, it is important that the company creates a strong internal bullying process to avoid or control cases of bullying, and so that the FWC will not have to mediate every time a bullying happens. The bill will draw every company to review carefully their existing policies concerning bullying and to improve them if needed. Improvement will help the company to operate effectively.
Every company also needs to anticipate the possibility of involvement in a FWC proceeding if an employee submits an application. They must be prepared as always by having a work flow determining the point persons to provide the necessary information and to attend the conference or hearing.