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Bullying in strata

By Kristin Ramsey24 May 2016

Workplace bullying continues to rise with the latest surveys indicating up to 40% of employees have experienced bullying at some point in their working lives.  

Bullying is legally defined as repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker that creates a risk to health and safety.

The Productivity Commission estimates that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between 6 and 36 billion dollars per year.  Obviously, that is a very wide range based on some probably nebulous data and assumptions, but by any definition the costs are substantial.

Until recently, stakeholders in the body corporate and management rights industries thought that there was little that could be done to combat bullying behaviour engaged in by lot owners or members of a body corporate committee towards them. 

There has been a perception that bullying claims can only apply to those that are employees.  As we all know, most in the management rights and body corporate management industries are contractors. 

This perception is not correct.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has now confirmed that it can hear bullying claims involving bodies corporate.   Protection from bullying applies to ‘workers.’  A ‘worker’ for the purposes of the FWC includes (but is not limited to) a contractor and a subcontractor (together with their employees).

As such, a caretaker, strata manager or any other contractor performing work at, or for the property could bring a bullying claim if they are subjected to repeated unreasonable conduct by lot owners or members of the body corporate committee.

Unreasonable behaviour in the strata sector could include things like:

  • Communicating in an insulting, aggressive or abusive manner (for example shouting or swearing);
  • Sending abusive or an excessive number of emails;
  • Making unreasonable demands or  creating unnecessary deadlines;
  • Unjustified criticism or complaints;
  • Physical violence or the threat of violence.

If this sort of conduct is taking place the perpetrators could well find themselves on the wrong end of a bullying claim.

Where the FWC finds that bullying has occurred, they can make orders designed to stop the unreasonable conduct from taking place in the future.

The types of orders that are being made include:

The restriction of direct communication between the victim and the bully.
Limiting the number of emails sent on any given day, and the times emails can be sent.
Changing reporting lines.
Implementing policies and procedures that address bullying and complaints handling.

While the FWC has no power to order the payment of compensation or fine someone for any wrongdoing, there can be direct and indirect costs associated with implementing changes arising from orders made (and of course costs involved in defending the action in the first place).

We are running a webinar on these issues soon.  Click here to register.