FWC Ruling Highlights Complexity in Defining Workplace Bullying
In a recent decision that examines the definition of workplace bullying, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) highlighted the need for a pragmatic approach towards understanding the dynamics between managers and their reports.
This ruling came in response to an application by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) for anti-bullying orders against a FedEx supervisor on behalf of five Wollongong-based delivery drivers.
The conflict between the delivery drivers and the supervisor dated back several years.
In 2019, an intervention by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission resulted in an agreement for FedEx to oversee the situation. The application involved approximately 50 incidents over six years, primarily featuring the supervisor allegedly screaming at the delivery drivers. However, the FWC noted that these incidents, when viewed in isolation, were not particularly serious. The incidents suggest long-standing strained relations rather than outright bullying.
Importantly, the FWC emphasised that genuine belief in being bullied, as held by the drivers, does not automatically confer the right to apply under s789FC of the anti-bullying legislation. A belief must be reasonably held and supported by objective evidence, rather than being based on perceptions.
Three Important Questions
The FWC deliberation then turned to three crucial questions to ascertain if bullying occurred:
Is any and all unreasonable conduct bullying behaviour if it occurs towards a worker at work and causes a risk to health and safety?
What was the supervisor’s conduct towards the drivers?
Was that conduct bullying?
The FWC observed that the supervisor’s actions, while possibly blunt, were efforts to ensure accountability and efficient work performance by the delivery drivers. Accordingly, the FWC suggested that the occasional display of exasperation by the supervisor could still be within the bounds of reasonable management action.
The FWC ruled that the supervisor’s conduct, though perhaps marked by occasional exasperation, did not amount to bullying. The FWC emphasised that allowances should be made for some degree of tension in the manager-employee relationship if it falls within the scope of reasonable management action.
In summary, the decision underlines the complexity of defining bullying in the workplace and underscores the need for a balanced and objective approach in assessing such allegations.
It also highlights a commitment by the FWC to distinguish between firm management practices and genuine bullying.
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You may also like to read our Employer’s Guide to Managing Workplace Bullying.