So you’ve been accused of workplace bullying. What can you do about it? Well, don’t resign immediately! Accusations can take several forms ranging from informal expressions of concern to a formal complaint and investigation with paid suspension and disciplinary allegations. Most employers will have a policy setting out the procedure for when someone makes a workplace bullying complaint and this should be followed. You should ask for this document. An applicable enterprise agreement may also contain a relevant procedure. Consider getting legal advice at an early stage.
If informal concerns are expressed about your conduct, then it is often best to interact to seek to address those concerns at an early stage. Mediation is often worthwhile. However, whilst self reflection and a change of style might be called for, try and avoid the natural human reaction of spontaneously apologising or running away from the issue. If an investigation is conducted, then you should fully participate and answer questions asked of you. It’s a good idea to write out a history of events while fresh in your memory. Have a support person with you at any meeting and ensure you get a transcript or recording of the meeting. You are entitled to know and respond to the detail of factual incidents alleged against you. Remember that bullying is more than a perception and must comprise more than one factual incident. You can also name relevant witnesses who should be interviewed. Also consider providing a supplementary statement if you want to add to your interview record. If an adverse finding is made against you (with or without disciplinary action), there may be legal avenues to challenge those findings and there is certainly nothing stopping you from asking for a review if there are substantial grounds. You should generally avoid making a counter complaint.
If a complainant is not happy with the outcome of an internal complaint then they may be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for stop bullying orders. The FWC is able to make orders to stop specific bullying behaviours from continuing. It cannot order compensation. Individual workers are respondents to the application, although the employer will also be involved. Consideration should be given to filing a response. The FWC will hold a conference (usually by phone) to seek to practically resolve the complaint informally. This may result in agreement about workplace adjustments. The complainant can pursue their application to hearing if they are not satisfied with the outcome and it is possible the FWC will make stop bullying orders. The employer may offer to pay for your legal advice and independent legal representation at their cost. If not, you should at least obtain your own legal advice before a FWC conference.
Remember that there is a process to address and resolve complaints. Please contact us if you would like any further information or help.