Employers fear misuse of bullying laws

TASMANIA'S peak business groups fear new workplace bullying laws will prompt a tide of frivolous complaints and spark a rise in ``hush money'' payouts.

Australia's new workplace bullying laws, which came into effect on January 1, allow workers to apply to the Fair Work Commission seeking a formal order to stop bullying behaviour.

The Fair Work Act defines bullying as a risk to health and safety through repeated and unreasonable actions from a person or group in the workplace. 

It says bullying does not apply to reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson told the  Guardian Australia  that the new laws risked being misused by people who did not have genuine bullying complaints - a concern echoed by Tasmanian chief executive officer Michael Bailey. 

``The majority of employees understand that the nature of work is that  sometimes  you'll need to do duties outside your normal work,'' Mr Bailey said.

``But we feel the laws do have the potential blur line between performance management and harassment, and it means a disgruntled employee can look back through their work life and pick up examples that could technically be seen as bullying.

``I would be very surprised if the new government doesn't look at it.'' 

Launceston Chamber of Commerce executive officer Maree Tetlow said she had heard that more lawyers were advising employers to pay ``hush money'' to complainants, even if their claims appeared frivolous.

``People are being advised this is the best thing to do, even if there is no case, because of the costs of going through the courts,'' she said.  ``Bullying is certainly not acceptable, but the filpside is that we get cases that suit the actions of disgruntled employees.''

The Fair Work Commission will only be given a 14-day time-frame to act on specific complaints, but it does not have the power to award compensation.

Email adruce@examiner.com.au 

Twitter @AlexDruce1987 

 According to the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013, bullying occurs when: 

 A person or a group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

 Bullying behaviour may involve:  

  Aggressive or intimidating conduct.

  Belittling or humiliating comments.

  Spreading malicious rumours. 

  Teasing.

  Practical jokes or ``initiation ceremonies''.

  Exclusion from work-related events.

  Unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work, or work below or beyond a worker's skill level.

  displaying offensive material.

  pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.

 Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner does not constitute bullying. This may include: 

  Performance management processes.

  Disciplinary action for misconduct.

  Informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance or inappropriate work behaviour.

  Asking a worker to perform reasonable duties in keeping with their job.

  Maintaining reasonable workplace goals and standards.

However, these actions must be conducted in a reasonable manner. If they are not, they could still be bullying.

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