A Bully Boss That Lost By Kate Ausden

Kate Ausden Blog

“Bullying” at work isn’t just a fight with your boss or not scoring an invitation to a client lunch.

It’s more serious.

Any employee wishing to obtain anti-bullying orders against his or her employer in the Fair Work Commission, must demonstrate that the employer (or individuals or groups employed by the employer) has repeatedly behaved unreasonably to the employee, causing a risk to health and safety. It excludes all reasonable management action.

In a recent FWC case, an employee has successfully obtained anti-bullying orders against her employer including, limiting the power of the Managing Director to give the employee directions.

But, the bullying was profound.

The employee was employed by a family business, worked at the family’s home (which doubled as work premises) and the married couple, who operated the family business, were in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

Not usual circumstances.

The bullying behaviour included:

– Excluding the employee from decisions, which were within the ambit of her job description;
– Making derisive comments about the employee as a female and/or friend of his calling the employee the wife’s “sidekick”;
– Undermining her authority and/or undermining her position, by calling her a “bookkeeper”, when her position was more senior;
– Making her provide a daily task list, when no other employee had this obligation imposed on him or her;
– Encouraging other workers to disrespect the employee;
– Innumerate instances of rude, dismissive and/or intimidating behaviour over a period of several years.

The employee reached breaking point and approached Safe Work South Australia. The employer was investigated and Notices were issues by Safe Work South Australia to compel the employer to take steps to minimise the risk to the employee’s psychological health and otherwise provide training.

Despite these notices, the intimidating behaviour continued and, while the employee was on light duties following an anxiety attack, the Managing Director sent her fifty emails in one day. The Managing Director also issued the employee with final warning letters in relation to her performance. The letters, which were drafted and issued by third party lawyers, were ill conceived and, given the facts, “egregious”.

The Fair Work Commission held that the employee had been bullied at work and made orders regarding the way in which she was to be treated at work including, limiting who can give the employee instructions and directions and requiring the Managing Director’s communications to be “professional, respectful and business-like.”

Paula Taylor [2019] 1794 (21 March 2019)