Bullying at work: Commission warns against “excessive sensitivity”

Individuals have a relatively high threshold to attain in order to establish workplace bullying.

In the case, a recruitment coordinator team leader was sacked for bullying a member of staff. The person had resigned and in her exit interview made various complaints about the team leader – that she’d been aggressive towards her in every dealing, constantly belittled her, swore and screamed at her regularly and embarrassed and humiliated her.

The employer said the allegations prompted an investigation that was “impartial and conducted promptly, confidentially and objectively” which confirmed this.

However, the team leader won her appeal to the Fair Work Commission for unfair dismissal.

The commissioner was satisfied that while the working relationship between the two had its difficulties, it appeared that the employer had not acted on the staff member’s complaints until she resigned, a course which the commission held was inappropriate. And it found a lack of contemporaneous documentation of the bullying.

The commissioner wanted to guard against creating a workplace environment of “excessive sensitivity to every misplaced word or conduct”, saying that the workplace did not comprise “divine angels”, and employers needed to be mindful that “every employee who claims to have been hurt, embarrassed or humiliated does not automatically mean the offending employee is ‘guilty of bullying’ and ‘gross misconduct’”.