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As a Leader, are you sure you understand how the Fair Work Act affects you and your responsibilities at work?

The Fair Work Commission gets to work

The Fair Work Commission handed down one of its first findings recently, which surprised many HR professionals and simultaneously relieved some employer organisations.

The Commission received an application for a 'stop bullying order' (similar to an intervention order) from a team manager who alleged unreasonable behaviour by her team and one team member in particular.

The manager claimed the team member deliberately made false allegations against her, spread malicious rumours about her, and harassed and badgered her on a daily basis.

Further, the manager claimed she received a lack of support from management and there was an ongoing risk to her health and safety because her employer failed to take adequate action to prevent the bullying.

The employer opposed the application on the basis there was an absence of repeated unreasonable conduct by any of the team members.

The Commission dismissed the claim, finding that while some of the behaviour alleged was "bordering upon unreasonable", it was outside the scope of bullying behaviour as defined by the Fair Work Act

Commissioner Hampton had this to say: "I am not satisfied that the alleged behaviour occurred and/or was unreasonable in the context that it occurred."

"Some of the behaviour ... was bordering upon unreasonable but not such as to fall within the scope of bullying behaviour as defined by the Act. In particular, I cannot be satisfied, based upon the evidence ... that the limited degree of unreasonable behaviour by the individuals concerned was such that it created a risk to health and safety."

Do you know what's really going on it your team?

The distinction made by Commissioner Hampton is a critical one.

Some of my clients have told me they have experienced increased allegations of unfair treatment from employees at various levels within their organisations. And some of these leaders attribute the increase to a perception in the workplace that the changes to the Fair Work Act that were highly publicised at the start of this year meant that there were to be much tougher crackdowns on what many might view as merely unpleasant behaviour between work colleagues.

Commissioner Hampton's decision makes it clear that one of the keys to determining if a behaviour or treatment is classified as bullying within the Act is that the behaviour is repeated over a significant period of time.

Peter Vitale, an employment law expert, suggested Commissioner Hampton's was a "careful and considered decision". He added that claims of bullying and harassment, more often than not, contain elements of cultural and personality issues, and my not be strictly 'bullying' as defined by the Act.

Vitale added "The lesson for employers is really to keep your ear to the ground and try and work out whether there are any issues bubbling among staff that are causing any distress or personality conflict and step on it as quickly as possible."

Hear, hear, I say. A leader cannot afford to adopt the ostrich head-in-the-sand approach, or merely attempt to sweep things under the carpet. As I like to remind my clients - sweeping things under the carpet only makes it lumpier and bumpier and bound to cause someone (or several people) to eventually trip over it.

So how does a busy Leader keep their ear to the ground?

Here are 3 things you can implement immediately to avert trouble and avoid bullying claims:

  1. Have regular casual catch-ups with all members of your team.

    Discover their thoughts on what's going well around the place and what needs some attention and energy to improve it. 
  2. Walk the Talk

    Model the kind of behaviour, trust and respect you expect team members to give each other. Avoid 2-Faced communication - talk directly to the person concerned if you have an issue or concern with them ... and no one else.
  3. Move from a Punitive Culture to a Purposeful Culture

    Communicate the goal for everyone is to learn and grow, rather than be criticised for wrong-doings. Look for all opportunities to congratulate and praise. Help people understand what their specific part is to the overall efforts of the entire team.

    Enable people to feel their is true and valuable purpose to the roles they fulfil.

Need a sounding Board or some advice about your concerns? I'd love to shout you a coffee while we discuss what's going on at your workplace.

And if you'd like a simple way of discovering what's really going on in your team, this brief but effective tool will provide you with insights about how your team ...

  • Deals with conflict
  • Manages their communication - especially during tough times
  • Lets go of past tensions
  • Is able to focus on the future and your vision
  • Regards upper management
  • And more!

It's only one click away ... click here to request an Audit so you can get started in Taking Your Team to the Top!

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