*New workplace bullying legislation

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On? 1 January 2014 new workplace bullying legislation commenced that makes bullying conduct unlawful and permitting the Fair Work Commission to hear claims and order a cessation to cases of workplace bullying.

Formerly employees seeking to pursue a bullying claim have done so through indirect means such as workers’ compensation laws, anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). From 1 January 2014, employees now have a direct means of pursuing cases of workplace bullying.

The new laws are a result of a government report which found that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6bn and $36bn every year and that individual cases costs employers an average of $17,000 to $24,000 per claim.

Under the new workplace bullying legislation, a worker is bullied at work when repeated and unreasonable behaviour is directed towards a worker or a group of workers, creating a risk to health and safety. The laws also extend beyond employees, to contractors, subcontractors, outworkers, apprentices, trainees and students as well as volunteers.

Repeated behaviour refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can involve a range of behaviours over time.

Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

In order to avoid workplace bullying claims it is important now more than ever that all employers have an effective workplace bullying policy in operation and that employees are trained in relation to the policy.

Persons conducting a business have the primary duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and other people are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking.

Workers and other people in the workplace also have a duty to take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of others.

More information on the new Workplace Bullying Laws is available from the Fair Work Commission.

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