Fears Concerning the Implications of Australia's New Workplace Bullying Laws

Wednesday 20 November 2013 @ 8.58 a.m. | Industrial Law

Australia’s new Federal anti-bullying in workplace law has been a source of concern for some given its imminent arrival on the 1 January 2014. Some have suggested that its advent would unleash a greater than expected flood of complaints to authorities given its extremely vague nature.

The amendments to the Fair Work Act (brought about by the Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 (No. 73 of 2013)) means that aggrieved employees can take all bullying complaints directly to the Fair Work Commission who is then obliged to act upon the application within 14 days.

“There will be a litany of complaints that are made that were not intended to be captured by the laws,” explained Joydeep Hor, the managing principal of law firm People + Culture Strategies. Hor clarified that it is not suggested that employees would abuse the new laws. Rather, the law would create a mechanism whereby the federal industrial watchdog would be unnecessarily involved in problems that could otherwise be resolved in the workplace via different means.

“Many of them will be genuinely aggrieved individuals who are looking for a solution to a workplace problem...What will be found is that as unhappy as they may be and as wronged as they may have been, they were not bullied.”

The amendments do contain safeguards for employers. However, employer groups are concerned is there is an apparent lack of clarity regarding how the law is to be applied.  Council of Small Business of Australia (Cosboa) chairwoman Amanda Lynch said:

“You could drive a truck through the holes in the legislation...Someone could accuse an employer of being a bully because the poor employer is talking to them about their workplace attitude in a room with glass walls that means other employees can watch the feedback being conducted.”

Furthermore, Lynch also mentioned that the law will duplicate current state bodies such as Work Cover NSW and Work Safe in Victoria. 

There is a range of causes for workplace unhappiness stemming from stress to harsh criticism of work. However, this does not in all cases amount an instance of bullying.

“People resort to the label of bullying because they know it will get a response...But they also feel that [in the absence of] that label, there is no way to describe how they feel.”

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