On 1st January 2014, a new law in Australia came into effect that means the Fair Work Commission (FWC) is now empowered to start hearing workplace bullying claims. The Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 passed both houses of parliament and was assented to in December 2013.
Although there are bound to be problems with the new legislation due to how certain phrases are interpreted, for example “unreasonable behaviour”, it is a significant step forward that this new law is in place.
Prior to this, in some Australian states, such as Victoria for example, under Brodie’s Law those convicted of bullying were deemed to be guilty of a criminal offence and can now face a 10-year jail sentence. They can also be fined up to $253,512 (more than £140,000) under workplace health and safety laws, while corporate employers risk fines of up to $1,267,560 (more than £700,000). All those interested in the issue of workplace bullying will be watching Australia to see the effects of this new law during 2014.
Given the cases that have come to light already in the UK and Ireland, as well as in other European countries, and those that are bound to be reported during the next 12 months, perhaps it is time to campaign for the inclusion of a new clause in the UK’s Equality Act 2010? At present, mistreatment and discrimination in the workplace is only protected by law when it relates to a ‘protected characteristic.’
Protected characteristics include:
- being or becoming a transsexual person
- being married or in a civil partnership
- being pregnant or having a child
- race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
- sexual orientation
However, most bullying behaviour is not related to these specific characteristics; it is persistent behaviour that is unwanted, intimidating, nasty (sometimes vicious), demeaning and psychologically (and often physically) harmful. It would take some time to list all the attributes that have been used to describe bullying behaviour so forgive this shortened version.
If the behaviour is the same – why should it make a difference if it is being carried out because of the colour of someone’s skin, their gender or their disability?
Bullying is just plain wrong.