Bullying claims are not for injured feelings
The CaseMrs Miranda Jane Gore (2016)
Mrs Gore was a receptionist at Yura Tungi Aboriginal Medical Service based in Halls Creek. Mrs Gore sought a stop bullying order against three employees – Mr Evans, Mrs Evans and Mrs Chadwick. Mrs Gore alleged the employees had bullied her by:
- praising another receptionist in front of Mrs Gore without praising her;
- speaking to her in an impolite tone;
- staring at her suspiciously;
- interacting with her in a hesitant manner;
- correcting her work;
- reminding her of a company policy when she did something that contravened the policy; and
- ignoring her.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) dismissed Mrs Gore’s bullying application, saying that the conduct did not constitute bullying. The FWC said that it is important to draw a distinction between the employee’s belief that they have been bullied and reasonable management actions.
The FWC stated, “While Mrs Gore may be sincere in her beliefs and views, the anti-bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act are to protect bullying behaviour, not substantially a person’s feelings.”
To constitute bullying, the behaviour must be:
- unreasonable; and
- constitute a risk to health and safety.
The FWC found that none of the conduct satisfied all three requirements.
Inevitably when dealing with employees, some may suffer hurt feelings. This will not necessarily mean that the employee has been bullied. However, to reduce the risk of bullying claims, you should have an anti-bullying policy in place and have employees trained in relation to its content.
When providing feedback to employees, ensure it is done in an appropriate way, and that it is focused on the issue and not on the person. It is important to ensure that the feedback is given as part of appropriate management action and does not constitute bullying.
Please note: Case law is reported as correct and current at time of publishing. Be aware that cases in lower courts may be appealed and decisions subsequently overturned.
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