It’s depressing when clients come into the Community Legal Service looking for advice about workplace bullying and harassment. There’s really not much you can do for them. If it gets so bad that they are injured, physically or psychologically, they can bring a Workcover claim. Alternatively the Queensland Office of Workplace Health and Safety might, at their discretion, investigate and even prosecute. Until 1 January 2014 there was no legal mechanism to make the bullying stop.
The Fair Work Commission now has power to make orders any time an individual or group repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or group of workers and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. It has already been found that behaviour before 1 January can be taken into account and it is clear that a variety of different behaviours and incidents can be cobbled together to demonstrate the behaviour was ‘repeated’. The orders will generally be for the bullying to stop, or policies to be put in place. Only when those orders are breached will penalty provisions apply. There are no pots of gold for victims here, but at least they might be able to stay in employment.
Unfortunately the jurisdiction relies on the Commonwealth government’s constitutional powers, which mean it can only make workplace laws which apply to itself and to what have become known as ‘Constitutional Corporations’. So if you work for a sole trader, a partnership, State or local government or most NGO’s you are still in the wilderness.
Julian Porter is Principal Solicitor of Suncoast Community Legal Service.
This column contains legal information only. Legal advice should be sought in relation to individual circumstances.