The Fair Work Commission has powers to make anti-bullying orders when a worker has
been bullied by an individual or group and there is a risk that the worker will continue to
be bullied at work by the individual or group.
The Commission does not have the power to order any monetary compensation – the
orders are there to get workers back working in a bullying-free environment as quickly as
possible, while taking steps to remove future bullying risk.
What is bullying?
Under these new powers workplace bullying occurs when:
an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards
a worker or a group of workers at work and
the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
This is a new jurisdiction, but from cases from other jurisdictions, some examples of
bullying have been held to be:
aggressive or intimidating conduct
belittling or humiliating comments
victimisation, isolation and ostracism
spreading rumours or playing practical jokes;
unreasonable work expectations;
upwards bullying – such as where a group of employees bully a team leader.
It’s important to note that the unreasonable type of behaviour must be repeated to fit the
definition, but it does not have to be exactly the same particular type of unreasonable
behaviour. So, if an employee is subject to belittling comments in one instance, and
given unreasonable work expectations in another instance, together that could be
repeated unreasonable behaviour which is bullying where it causes a risk to health or
The health and safety risk
Some bullying could be physically violent, or otherwise involve subjecting a worker to a
physical safety risk at their workplace. However, bullying will often cause psychological
and stress-related risks to health and safety. If you are a worker who is suffering stress
due to bullying, it’s not necessary to have a GP’s or psychologist’s diagnosis, but that
might help show the health and safety risk that could arise from continued bullying.
What’s not bullying?
“Reasonable management action” will not be held to be bullying. What is reasonable in
particular circumstances will depend on the facts: management action like performance
appraisals, giving warnings or changing a worker’s roster can be reasonable or
unreasonable depending on the circumstances, and it will be the Commission’s task to
balance people’s views as to what is and what isn’t reasonable.
Who and where?
Under the legislation, bullying by “an individual or group of individuals” towards a worker
or group of workers is relevant. So, the bully in question doesn’t have to be employed by
the same employer as the bullied worker, the important thing is that the bullying
occurred “at work” – that is, at a place at which work activities are done.
Employees of some employers cannot use this process if they are not employed by
corporations or certain other entities.
What’s the process?
A worker can make an application for an anti-bullying order to the Fair Work
Commission. The Commission must then start to deal with the application within two
The Commission sends a copy of the application to the employer, and anyone named as
a bully in the application, and they then have seven days to respond. The Commission
may then deal with the application by having a conference or mediation between the
parties, and then potentially a more formal hearing. After that, the Commission can
make an order to stop bullying. Of course, the parties might agree on a solution or a way
forward before the Commission gets to the point of issuing orders.
What sort of order?
The order will depend on the facts presented to the Commission, and the orders sought
by the affected worker or workers.
The point of making orders is to prevent the bullied worker being put at a future health
and safety risk arising from future bullying.
If the person who had been causing the bullying is no longer in the workplace, then it
might mean that the Commission does not need to make an order to prevent bullying.
However, orders might be made such as changing people’s shifts, changing the person
a worker reports to, or changing the work location of the bullied worker or the person
accused of bullying.
What if I’m sacked or I resigned?
If an employee is terminated, they lose the chance to bring a bullying application.
However, there are other applications that can be made in those circumstances, such as
unfair or wrongful termination or an application under the general protections.
How can we assist?
We can answer your questions about the anti-bullying process, such as whether you can
apply for an anti-bullying order and whether there are other applications you can make.
We can prepare and make an application for you, and assist you in the conciliation and
hearing stage of your application.
We can help you get working again in an environment where you don’t have to put up
with bullying that affects your health and wellbeing.
If you need more information or if you need assistance or advice on how to proceed
please call us on 03 9387 2424 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.