“Has your phone run hot with bullying claims?”
Someone asked me this at a presentation on the new bullying laws last week. And the answer is “No.” In the month and 3 weeks since the Fair Work Commission opened shop for bullying complaints, I haven’t yet had one framed in terms of the new legislation.
That’s not to say they aren’t around: Fair Work Commission reported receiving 44 applications in January, which was under the estimate of 70 a month, but still a tidy number for a month when much of the country is still in holiday mode.
None of the 44 have come to a substantive decision on the merits yet – several have been dismissed for procedural reasons (not paying the filing fee, not following up with additional information Fair Work Commission asked for).
However, bullying is still an element in many other issues – and these have come across my desk since the New Year – including workers’ compensation claims, disputes within unhappy teams about who did what to whom with someone then raising an issue describing some of it as bullying, and so on. Essentially these issues raise the same issues as the anti-bullying legislation, in terms of dealing fairly and properly with serious or potentially real issues, and being assertive about the employer’s right to carry out performance management and disciplinary processes without tactical bullying allegations derailing them.
The trick is taking a professional and unemotional view, being open to recognising situations that may involve bullying, and dealing with them well. In that context, a trip to the Fair Work Commission to deal with a bullying complaint (with the assistance of a firm, realistic and independent assessor) may actually be a helpful, albeit more costly, part of a solution.