Fair Work is not the answer to bullying

Nobody likes a bully.

But small business shouldn’t let itself get bullied into the latest proposal from the government to give workers the right to complain to the Fair Work Commission about bullying.

Bullying is an issue from the schoolyard to the workplace but giving employees access to the Fair Work Commission will just increase the workload for small business.

The House of Representative Standing Committee’s report into bullying, which prompted Bill Shorten’s proposal yesterday, found 6.8% of Australian workers had been bullied at work in the six months prior to being surveyed.

That’s a huge proportion of the workforce and suggests that Fair Work is going to be swamped by more bullying claims than even the dismissal and adverse action claims which currently occupy its time.

Of course just because a legislative proposal will open the litigation floodgates is not reason enough for it to be opposed.

Business groups including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group have been vocal in their opposition to the proposed measures, saying they will put additional pressure on already stretched businesses.

But even if you do think there needs to be more ways to address bullying in the workplace, the ability for an employee to file a bullying complaint with Fair Work is not the right way to go about it.

Adding a specific federal jurisdiction to receive complaints potentially allows forum shopping and adds a whole other layer of complexity for business and enforcement agencies.

What’s more, Fair Work is not the right forum for complaints to be brought to as it is not a court and cannot prosecute breaches or enforce its decisions.

On health and safety matters, state inspectorates and courts exercise that power.

Rather than opening up another flawed avenue of litigation, the government needs to look at preventing bullying in the first place.

Education about bullying and strong workplace health and safety laws and policies are the best ways to address bullying.

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