Workplace Bullying & the Law: Australia Passes Significant Anti-bullying Law
Are governments and workplaces waking up to the real costs and damages from workplace bullying?
Recently, Australian Parliament passed The Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013, a broad bill that empowers workers for flexible workplace arrangements, including significant provisions meant to curb workplace bullying. The law will come into effect on January 1, 2014.
I know many readers would be curious as to what this bill really means for targets of bullying and abrasive behavior in Australia. Here are the major points.
Bullying Investigations From an Independent Body: The Fair Work Commission
Under the new law, targets of bullying that are unable to resolve their situation internally can take their complaint directly to the Fair Work Commission, an independent entity. The Fair Work Commission is empowered to investigate the situation, and remarkably, promises “to deal with the matter” within 14 days.
From my own experience, I can tell you that “dealing with the matter” is much easier said than done. That being said, I do admire the legislators’ willingness to commit to a response time on paper. Though it may not be “fixed” in 14 days, the intention is to get the ball rolling on possible remedies.
Failure to Comply Brings Penalties…Eventually
One big sticking point in crafting the legislation was the power of the Fair Work Commission to impose hefty penalties at the outset for a workplace being “guilty” of bullying behavior. That power seems to have been removed, though stiff financial penalties can still occur if the workplace fails to follow the Commission’s recommendations.
According to a legal analysis by Australian lawyer Clayton Utz, “One key change is that the Commission will not be able to impose a pecuniary penalty as a remedy (the Government had proposed a penalty of up to $33,000). Instead, the Commission will be able to make any order it considers appropriate (other than an order requiring payment of a pecuniary amount) to prevent the worker from being bullied at work by the individual or group. Contravening that order will however attract a civil remedy, including a pecuniary penalty.”
A Wake Up Call to Employers and Targets
Another sticking point this bill had along the way was the fear from employers that workers would simply go the Fair Work Commission directly and bypass any existing procedures, remedies, or investigations.
This is a fair and legitimate fear, but one I hope spurs workplaces to make CLEAR and CONCISE workplace policies around bullying that are enforced. I doubt any worker would want to involve a government bureaucracy to solve their bullying issue if they believe they can get it resolved quickly and quietly in an internal process.
As with any new legislation, I’m sure there will be abuses of the process by both sides and a few bumps along the way. But I am highly encouraged and somewhat surprised that this legislation passed at all, and it gives me hope that the world is beginning to take the workplace bullying issue seriously.
For legislation in the United States, however, we may have to wait a little longer.
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Also read my upcoming book, Success Strategies for Handling Workplace Bullying, which outlines strategies I have been teaching targets. My strategies have been proven effective and empowering for targets and I’m committed to sharing them with the world.
I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts.
I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.