‘Clean desk’ policy performance management misconstrued as bullying

Employers need to be vigilant about creating fair and constructive workplace cultures that discourage bullying and discrimination. Ensuring that their leaders avoid certain management styles can reduce the risk of such issues and potential litigation. A recent decision before the Fair Work Commission highlights how easily an allegation of bullying can be made when an employee’s performance is under scrutiny.

A customer service officer in a large bank was placed on lengthy performance management programs for breaching the company’s “clean desk” policy, among other things. The employee felt that while his supervisor’s micro-managing and ‘nit-picking’ weren’t rude or abusive, they still constituted bullying as the actions made him feel stressed, tense and upset. The officer also alleged that the employer imposed the performance plans without justification and held him to a ‘higher standard’ than his colleagues.

The Fair Work Commission found it to be ‘unrefuted evidence’  that the officer ‘consistently failed to meet the minimum standards required’ when measured against his KPIs. Other employees in a similar position were also warned about breaches of the clean desk policy and subject to action plans, when necessary.

Considering the officer only worked three days per week, the Commissioner indicated in his rejection of the claim, “A sense of being over managed is a matter to be aware of in dealing with performance issues for all staff but particularly for staff who do not work every day. “

Given that increasing numbers of the Australian workforce are employed as part-time or offered flexible work arrangements, it is crucial to understand how to appropriately handle performance issues for those employees, in an effort to improve workplace culture and prevent bullying and discrimination complaints to such external bodies as Fair Work Australia.

iHR Australia believes that creating a safe and lawful workplace culture that will reduce the risk of bullying and anti-discrimination. Our Anti Discrimination and Bullying and Addressing Inappropriate Workplace Behaviour training educates managers on how to play a key role in preventing and effectively managing bullying, harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace.