No one likes being bullied at work. Workplace bullying is unlawful under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). This article explores what workplace bullying is, provides some examples, and outlines the complaints procedure.

What is Workplace Bullying?

The law does not deem all workplace behaviour as bullying. For example, your manager is allowed to “manage” your job performance (it is, after all, in their job title).

As a general rule, it will not usually be bullying if they are telling you to perform certain tasks that are within the usual scope of your position. This action is called “reasonable management action”.

The type of work that they can reasonably ask you to do largely depends on the capacity of your employment. On the other hand, shouting and swearing at you to do your job is unlikely to be seen as reasonable (even if they are asking you to do something you would normally do).

The impact of the behaviour is another factor in whether the law deems the actions of your co-workers or boss as bullying. If their behaviour has caused you psychological injury, it is more likely to be bullying. Evidence from a doctor that you have a mental illness (such as anxiety or depression) as a result of your workplace could be strong evidence in support of a bullying claim.

What are Some Examples of Being Bullied at Work?

The Fair Work Act may prohibit an individual acting in the following manner towards you at work:

  • Acting aggressively;
  • Shouting at you;
  • Expecting you to do too much work that you don’t have the skills to do;
  • Not giving you enough work;
  • Ostracising you (such as not inviting you to relevant meetings);
  • Forcing you to engage in workplace initiation rituals; or
  • Disrespecting you.

Keep in mind that no hard-and-fast rule says the above behaviour will always be seen as bullying. Ultimately, how the legal system characterises the behaviour depends on the particular circumstances of your case. It is important to look at all the actions as a whole, in the context of your particular job.

Can I Lodge a Complaint?

It is important that you have a “reasonable belief” that you are being bullied at work. If the Fair Work Commission determines that you filed a complaint without proper or reasonable grounds, or thinks you made up your complaint, it has the power to ask you to pay the costs of your employer in defending the claim.

If you think you are being bullied at work, and it’s possible that the workplace bullying will continue (e.g. you and the bully are still employed at the same place), you can ask the Fair Work Commission to intervene to stop the bullying.

Until the end of 2012, the Fair Work Commission was known as “Fair Work Australia”. Despite the name change, it is the same tribunal that has always heard workplace disputes.

You have the legal right to complain to the Fair Work Commission if the actions of the bully (or bullies) are: unreasonable, repeated and a health and safety risk.

To attract the Fair Work Act’s protection, the bullying must also take place at a “constitutionally-covered business”, such as a proprietary limited company or a Commonwealth authority. State government departments and sole traders don’t fall into this category.

The anti-bullying laws don’t just apply to full-time workers. If you are an apprentice, work-experience student, or contractor, the Fair Work Act may also cover you. This coverage is as long as a “constitutionally-covered business” employs you. Employees of the Australian Federal Police are covered. However, the Fair Work Act does not apply to people in the Defence Force.

If the bullying provisions in the Fair Work Act don’t apply to you, you may still be protected by equal opportunity or work health and safety laws.

How Do I Lodge a Complaint?

You can ask the Fair Work Commission to make an order to end the bullying.

  • Fill out Form 72, and lodge the form. There are various ways to lodge, including online, in-person and snail mail.
  • Pay the application fee, which is currently $69.60. You can ask for this fee to be removed if you are experiencing significant hardship.

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If you are being bullied at work, you may be protected by the Fair Work Act. If you want to apply to the Fair Work Commission, or are unsure about your rights and want assistance with the process, we’re here to help! Get in touch with our employment lawyers on 1300 544 755.

Amritha Thiyagarajan

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