Workplace Bullying is a huge issue for workers in Australian Workplaces with an estimated cost to Businesses between $17 billion and $36 billion each year. The average cost for a single claim falling between $17,000 and $24,000.

In the majority of cases, the alleged bully is identified as a Supervisor or a Manager. So what is considered Bullying and what is deemed Reasonable Management Action?

Understanding Bullying

A worker is deemed to have been bullied at work if an individual or a group of individuals, repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards them and that behaviour creates a risk to the workers’ health and safety.

Examples of bullying may include but are not limited to;

  • Aggressive or intimidating conduct
  • Belittling or humiliating comments
  • The spreading of malicious rumours
  • Teasing, practical jokes or initiation ceremonies or actions
  • Exclusion from work related activities
  • Unreasonable work expectations (including too little or too much work, or work above or below a workers skill set)
  • Pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner
  • Isolation
  • Singling out

Understanding Reasonable Management Action

Bullying does not include Reasonable Management Action provided it is carried out in a reasonable manner. This is spelt out in Section 789FD (2) of the Fair Work Act. This provision is not so much an ‘exclusion’ but a qualification on the definition of when a worker is bullied at work.

The Fair Work Act deems that Reasonable Management Action as comprising three elements;

  • The behaviour must be management action
  • It must be reasonable for the management action to be taken; and
  • The management action must be carried out in a manner that is reasonable

In a Fair Work Decision in 2015 – Amie Mac v Bank of Queensland Ltd & Ors FWC 774, Vice president Hatcher addressed the exception to bullying by examining what could be determined as ‘Reasonable management Action’. VP Hatcher stated that for management action to be unreasonable it must be proven to have “lacked evident and intelligible justification such that it would be considered by a reasonable person to be unreasonable in all circumstances”.

So what is Reasonable Management Action?

The following are examples of what may be considered Reasonable Management Action;

  • Performance Appraisals carried out in accordance with established Policies and Procedures
  • Ongoing meetings to address underperformance
  • Counselling or disciplinary action carried in accordance with established policies and procedures
  • Investigating alleged misconduct
  • Asking a worker to perform duties within their job description
  • Maintaining workplace goals and standards in accordance with established policies and procedures
  • Investigating alleged inappropriate work behaviour in accordance with established policies and procedures

It is important to note that any of the above behaviours could be classified as bullying if not conducted in a Reasonable Manner (i.e. if unjustified, aggressive or undertaken with malicious intent).

Reasonable management Action is justified feedback or disciplinary action that is carried out in a reasonable manner. Management Action is considered reasonable if it is fair, transparent, and consistent with established policies and procedures.

What to do if there is bullying or reports of bullying at work?

Firstly try to resolve the issues at the workplace where it is possible and safe to do so.

Most workplaces have established processes to deal with the issue of workplace bullying.

Members are encouraged to raise the issues with their;

  • Supervisor or Manager
  • HSR Representative and or Union delegate
  • Human Resource Department
  • United Services Union

Obviously if the bullying matter sits with your Manager or Supervisor it is best to contact your Union Delegate and or the USU. You can contact our help line on 1300 136 604.

It is also a good idea to keep a file of any evidence that supports your claim such as emails, work instructions that you feel is unreasonable, any witness names who are willing to support you, a record of any incidences as well as witnesses, what was said and by whom. Also keep a diary and record any incidences that you encounter as well as details. Diaries count as evidence in any Commission Hearing or Workers Compensation Process.

The United Services Union can provide support throughout any internal investigation as well as Representation in either the fair Work Commission or NSW Industrial Relations Commission. If the matter is a Workers Compensation Claim, USU members are also entitled to Legal Representation through the process.

If you are not a member and wish to join, you can do so by going to our website or contact our Help Line on 1300 136 604 or speak to your Union delegate.