9 October 2015
Each year, mental health conditions of workers cost Australian employers over $10 billion. Bullying has been identified as one of the key causes of such mental health issues. The legal framework, the Fair Work Commission’s expanded jurisdiction to make stop bullying orders and increased regulatory scrutiny mean that employers must understand, manage and minimise bullying in the workplace.
What are the legal risks of bullying in the workplace?
Employers should not only be aware of the injuries, decreased productivity and absenteeism associated with bullying in the workplace, but also possible exposure to legal claims including:
- an application by an employee who alleges they are being bullied to the Fair Work Commission (“FWC”) for a stop bullying order. It is important to note that orders made by the FWC may affect the employer even if the employer is not a party to the proceedings;
- breach of the employer’s work health and safety obligations , including the obligation to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers at work. This includes mental health conditions and anything that may trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions; and
- claims for common law damages for negligence as seen in the case of Swan v Monash Law Book Co-operative  VSC 326. In that case, the employer failed to act on complaints and the employee was awarded almost $600,000 for psychological injuries as a result of “sustained workplace bullying”.