13 April 2013
Kerry James, Senior Associate
At the end of 2012, the Standing Committee on Education and Employment (the “Committee”) released its much anticipated report into workplace bullying titled “Workplace Bullying: We Just Want It To Stop” (the “Report”). The Report was the result of a comprehensive inquiry which received over 300 submissions and conducted 11 days of public hearings.
The Federal Government’s focus on workplace bullying is reflective of the growing awareness of workplace bulling as a serious behaviour and culture issue. This growing awareness is the result of a number of high profile cases which have attracted significant media attention, the introduction of legislation to criminalise workplace bullying and the recent work health & safety harmonisation process which reinforced psychological health as a priority.
On 1 June 2012, the Committee called for submissions to be made on all forms of bullying in the workplace to hear a range of perspectives and experiences.
The Committee was interested in hearing from all parties and submissions were received from a range of stakeholders including, affected individuals and their families, legal practitioners (of which PCS was one firm), employer groups, employee counselling service providers and unions.
The Committee was then tasked with preparing a report to examine the nature, causes and extent of workplace bullying and considering proposals to address workplace bullying.
The Committee released the Report at the end of 2012 detailing the inquiry process and making 23 key recommendations. These recommendations depict a clear focus on up-skilling all workplace participants in relation to workplace bullying and adopting a preventative approach to address workplace bullying at the organisational level.
Having said this, the Report also made a number of recommendations suggesting legislative changes to address workplace bullying. Of significance, was the recommendation that an adjudicative process be established to provide employees with an avenue for redress. In circumstances where there are already numerous avenues available to an employee to pursue a complaint of bullying (including through worker’s compensation, anti-discrimination, industrial law and tort law), this has caused concern for many employers and has taken the focus away from adopting a preventative approach to workplace bullying.
Of the 23 recommendations made by the Committee, employers should particularly be aware of the following key recommendations:
Definition: throughout the inquiry there was general support for the adoption of a single nationally consistent definition of workplace bullying. The definition of workplace bullying recommended by the Committee was:
Importantly, the Committee noted in their Report that balanced against this definition is also the need for managers to be able to manage their staff and that the definition of workplace bullying must include scope for reasonable performance management, disciplinary action and management action.
Of the 23 recommendations made, 19 were adopted by the Federal Government, including all of the recommendations set out above.