In focus

The commencement of the new anti-bullying jurisdiction posed procedural and administrative challenges for the Commission. However, in its first six months the processes established for dealing with anti-bullying matters have been well-received and effective.

The anti-bullying jurisdiction required a new way of thinking for the Commission. Anti-bullying Panel Head Commissioner Hampton said, “We’re applying different concepts here, because this is all about preventive maintenance of employment and personal relationships—it is not about picking up the pieces after the event. So in that context it’s a different skill set.”

The jurisdiction is designed to prevent further bullying at work from occurring. It confers no powers on the Commission to order compensation or declare parties to be guilty. This jurisdiction is in addition to and does not replace other mechanisms that can deal with bullying, such as work health and safety, anti-discrimination or even the general protections or general dispute resolution provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009.

“The statutory purpose of the jurisdiction is to create a way of quickly and directly dealing with bullying behaviour prior to it escalating and leading to consequences for both the individual who’s the subject of it, the organisation where it occurs, and the person who is alleged to have conducted the bullying behaviour,” Commissioner Hampton said.

International research has shown that dealing with bullying at work early and informally produces better outcomes in terms of maintaining constructive and workable ongoing workplace relationships. The Commission’s processes for dealing with anti-bullying matters reflect these priorities and are quite different to how we deal with matters such as unfair dismissals.

“We have an initial conversation with the applicant and then we have that same conversation with the employer. We usually do that on the same day that the application has been lodged so we deal with them very quickly,” Jennifer Anderson, who manages the anti-bullying team and was extensively involved in the consultations with stakeholders on the processes for dealing with these matters, said.

When an application is received the anti-bullying case management team contacts the applicant—usually within 24 hours. Ms Anderson said, “We talk to them about the application that they’ve made and raise any issues of concern if they have indicated that there is some sort of imminent risk at the workplace or if they’ve indicated that they’ve got risks around self-harm or other serious issues.” The anti-bullying case management team deals with the application until it is allocated to a staff mediator or Commission Member.

So far, many matters have resolved without going to formal proceedings. Commissioner Hampton said, “What we often try to do is have them resolved rather than determined because obviously you can do that more quickly and more inclusively and less judgementally, and in the context of an ongoing employment or contractual relationship all of those are positives.”

Commissioner Hampton is content with the first six months operation of the jurisdiction. He said, “We were well prepared for the nature of the parties and the nature of the issues and the challenges that would arise, and we put a lot of time into designing a system and providing resources and training for Members and staff.”

Importantly, many of the applications that fall within the jurisdiction have been resolved in a manner that has dealt with the underlying issues and strengthened the workplace relationships.