The first day of 2014 will see the beginning of a new regime to tackle the problem of workplace bullying.
Under the new laws, victims of workplace bullying will be able to apply directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order that the bullying stop.
An initiative of the former Labor federal government, with bipartisan support, the new jurisdiction is without precedent globally. It will enable Australia to lead the world in anti-bullying legislation and is a step in the right direction for workers and employers alike.
But only if the process is right.
There is no doubting that bullying in the workplace is a serious issue, and Australia’s new anti-bullying jurisdiction is a good idea, but there is significant – and justified – concern within corporate Australia about these new laws.
Alarm is understandable, considering the thousands of complaints each year made to safety and workers’ compensation regulators relating to bullying. Then there is the uncertainty that comes from introducing new and untested laws without international precedent, and the broad discretion given to the FWC to make orders to stop future bullying.
However, there are some simple, non-legislative solutions that will ensure that everyone is protected.
First, employers should not have to invest resources in defending unmeritorious claims. This can be achieved by teaching workers what bullying is before they bring a claim.
Many workers will contact the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) before they decide to bring a bullying claim. It is very important that the FWO is involved in the plan to filter out unmeritorious claims.
For the jurisdiction to be a success, the FWO will need to train its telephone hotline employees about what constitutes bullying. Workers should be advised that their employer’s internal processes (particularly informal processes) should be their first step in resolving any bullying complaint.
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