What do new anti-workplace bullying laws mean for small business?

The Productivity Commission estimates that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy is somewhere between $6 billion and $36 billion annually. For business, the price-tag for a workplace bullying case averages between $17,000 and $24,000, and the cost of these compensation claims is much higher when compared to payouts for ‘traditional’ physical injury.

Bullying has become such a serious issue in Australia that Federal Laws have now been introduced to supplement State Health and Safety Laws. Under the Federal Fair Work Act a worker who is being bullied at work can now apply to the Fair Work Commission to stop the bullying.

Whilst I strongly believe as business owners we have a responsibility to protect the people at our workplaces from bullying in the workplace, I also see how difficult it is for small businesses to have the resources to meet this responsibility.

So what do Small Businesses owners need to know and do to meet these new laws?

  1. Understand that once an application to the Fair Work Commission is made it is allocated to the Fair Work Anti-Bullying Team where an extensive process of investigation follows. As the business owner, you must participate in this process which is time consuming not to mention the cost if the business is fined. Under the Act fines can be up to $52,000 if the business does not comply with an order by Fair Work Commission to stop the bullying.
  2. Make sure you understand what bullying is and what it isn’t and communicate this to everyone in your workplace.
  3. Understand that as the business owner your responsibility to prevent bullying now extends to include not only your employees but also contractors, subcontractors, apprentices, trainees and people on work experience.
  4. Have clear policies and procedures which include the prevention of bullying, managing grievances, dispute resolution and discipline and termination.
  5. Communicate these policies and procedures to everyone in the workplace and ensure that everyone new to the business is made aware of them.
  6. Implement these policies and procedures responding promptly to any bullying allegations both face to face and in writing.
  7. Seek professional advice if you are unsure if the allegation meets the definition of bullying.

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