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FWC releases bullying statistics for January 2014

11 February 2014

The new anti-bullying laws that came into effect at the start of this year have been met with both anticipation and scepticism, and the Fair Work Commission (FWC) now has some statistics to track its progress so far.

Employees across Australia can now make a claim to the FWC if they "reasonably believe" they have been bullied at work and, subject to the Commission's assessment of the claim, the FWC then has the power to issue an order to stop the bullying.

One of the main concerns HR experts raised toward the end of last year was that there would be a deluge of claims by employees who wanted to exploit the system or who were mistakenly labelling behaviour as bullying, when it may not fit the definition.

So now that the first month of 2014 has passed, how many claims has the Commission dealt with to date?

The key statistics released by the Commission on 5 February 2014 are as follows:

  • 44 applications received
  • 6 applications withdrawn (during the preliminary assessment stage)
  • 28,049 number of unique hits to Commission website seeking information
  • 100 per cent of matters commenced within the 14-day period

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Justice Iain Ross, president of the FWC, said these numbers should be analysed with prudence as significant changes are expected in the months ahead.

"January and February traditionally see a smaller number of lodgements with the Commission, particularly in relation to other individual-based rights disputes such as unfair dismissals and general protections,″ he explained in a February 5 statement.

"The time of year and the fact that this is a new jurisdiction means that the number of applications received to date is not necessarily indicative of the lodgement trends we will see in future.″

It remains to be seen just how many more workplace bullying claims will be lodged this year and the impact this will have on employers and the FWC. Staying on top of relevant policies, bullying and harassment training and complaint management procedures can help towards safeguarding your organisation by lessening the risk of employees wishing to seek external resolution of complaints.

The Commission's Anti-bullying Benchbook can provide useful insight into the FWC's approach, what is considered to be workplace bullying and what is not workplace bullying.

Furthermore, it helps to remember that the Commission does not promote or recommend monetary settlements for bullying claims and may in some cases conduct a mediation or conciliation conference with the parties involved, in order to assist in restoring working relationships to enable parties to move forward. With this in mind, it could be beneficial to employers to ensure that complaints handling procedures contain provisions for informal resolution options such as workplace mediation. Not only could this help to remedy the matter at hand but should the matter be subsequently taken to the Commission, consideration can be given to the employer's actions in dealing with the complaint, including options provided to the employee and any independent workplace investigations or internal investigations undertaken.

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