Workplace Gossip – Does it amount to Bullying?

September, 2015

By Clayton Payne, Special Counsel

As discussed in previous alerts, the Fair Work Commission has the ability to deal with certain workplace bullying complaints, and in some circumstances, to make “stop bullying” orders.

In order to be “bullied at work”, the legislation states that the worker in question (or a group of workers of which that person is a member) must be subjected to repeated and unreasonable behaviour by an individual, or group of individuals.

The behaviour must also create a risk to health and safety.

Could workplace gossip constitute such unreasonable behaviour?

The Facts

In the recent decision of the Fair Work Commission in Page, a worker employed in a market complained that another stall worker had over time “stared at (her) with a hostile look” and allegedly told her on one occasion to “get f***ed”.The worker was also concerned that she had become the subject of gossip between traders and market workers.

In particular, the worker claimed that some of the other stall holders pointed and laughed at her, after they had been approached by the alleged perpetrator of the bullying behaviour.

In dealing with the allegations, Commissioner Cloghan found:

Bullying can manifest itself in many ways. I consider it uncontroversial to say that spreading misinformation or ill-will against others is bullying …

Scurrilous denigration of a worker in the workplace would certainly fall within the boundary of bullying.

While the Commissioner did not make any “stop bullying” orders, he considered that his other observations might have been useful in attempting to resolve matters between the workers.

Conclusion

Workplace gossip can be extremely destructive of workplace harmony and can lead to various problems, and claims, for employers to deal with.

As was shown in the decision above, the Fair Work Commission has considered that such conduct can amount to unreasonable behaviour, resulting in workplace bullying.

For this reason, employers should monitor such behaviour in their workplaces to ensure that it does not cause greater problems.

Employers should have policies and procedures in place, and provide training to management and staff. This training should include instruction on what sort of behaviour is acceptable, what sort of behaviour will not be condoned, and in particular, what sort of behaviour can lead to complaints of bullying.

Contact Mills Oakley

For more information, please contact:

Ross Levin | Partner
Melbourne
T: +61 3 9605 0070
E: rlevin@millsoakley.com.au

Malcolm Davis | Partner
Sydney
T: +61 2 8035 7932
E: mdavis@millsoakley.com.au

Adam Lunn | Partner
Melbourne
T: +61 3 9605 0868
E: alunn@millsoakley.com.au

Lisa Anaf | Partner
Melbourne
T: +61 3 9605 0857
E: lanaf@millsoakley.com.au

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