The new national anti-bullying jurisdiction could lead to an increase in workers compensation claims unless businesses act now to tackle workplace bullying, warns Jason Allison, chief of workers compensation portfolio, Suncorp
Under the amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009
(Cth), which came into effect on 1 January this year, workers of constitutionally covered businesses who reasonably believe they are being bullied at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying.
Victims can also make a claim for psychological injury. Suncorp
says this could lead to a spike in workers compensation claims, and therefore businesses facing higher premiums and the loss of any applicable discounts if the situation was not addressed.
“Businesses should not underestimate how much a bullying action could cost – the workers compensation implications are not the only ones to consider,” Allison said.
“The amendments include significant penalties for failing to act on a Fair Work Commission order; the maximum penalty for an individual is $10,200, while corporations face up to $51,000.
“Businesses can also face prosecution under work health and safety laws and could also lose a significant amount of productivity if the bullied employee is off work and you have to discipline the perpetrators.”
To avoid these costs, Allison urged businesses to foster and promote a culture of zero-tolerance towards workplace bullying.
“If you promote a positive culture where employees treat bullying as completely unacceptable behaviour, it is more likely that it will not occur in the first place and, if it does, any instances will be quickly dealt with.”
Businesses can partner with their workers compensation providers and insurance brokers to help them implement thorough risk management procedures to prevent and identify bullying.
“The legislation defines bullying as instances of an individual or a group repeatedly behaving in an ‘unreasonable’ manner towards a worker or a group of workers of which the worker is a member, to the extent that it creates a risk to health and safety– including mental health,” said Allison.
“Workers compensation professionals can assist in implementing systems to identify these behaviours – since they are effectively health and safety risks – before they become a problem.
“It is also extremely beneficial to choose a workers compensation insurer that has an excellent record for prompt return-to-work times, because the longer an injured worker is off work, the less likely it is that they will fully recover.”
Under the amendments, the Fair Work Commission can make any order it considers appropriate to prevent further bullying, such as developing an anti-bullying policy or disciplining the perpetrators.
The legislation states that normal management actions, such as disciplining or counselling a worker, for example, are not bullying, so long as they are acts performed in a reasonable manner.
Having a robust process that demonstrates any bullying is being addressed could help a business avoid a Fair Work Commission order, Suncorp