Gossip constitutes bullying under Fair Work Act

Thursday 10 September 2015 3:36pm

Spreading “misinformation or ill-will” against a worker constitutes bullying under the Fair Work Act, a commissioner has found in advising a company to develop policies on how workers in neighbouring businesses should treat each other.

Fair Work Commissioner Danny Cloghan also found that telling a worker to “‘get fucked’… departs from normal social interaction in the workplace and [falls] within the definition of bullying if repetitive”.

However, he dismissed an application for a stop-bullying order – made by a worker who allegedly received such abuse – because of a lack of evidence.

The worker was employed by a soap stall at Fremantle Markets in Western Australia, and applied for a stop-bullying order against the employee of a neighbouring crystal stall and a market cleaner.

She claimed the crystal employee often stared at her with a “hostile look”, ignored her “hellos” and “good mornings”, told her to “get fucked” in February this year, and spread “false stories” about her, which resulted in other stall holders pointing and laughing at her.

She alleged the cleaner threatened to kill her in March this year because he believed she was dropping soap scraps on the floor.

The cleaner agreed that he asked the worker not to put the scraps on the floor because they were difficult to remove, but denied threatening her.

Commissioner Cloghan said it was unnecessary to determine whether the cleaner made threatening comments because his alleged behaviour wasn’t repeated, meaning it didn’t satisfy the definition of bullying under section section789FD of the Fair Work Act.

He found the worker hardly knew the cleaner and hadn’t encountered him since the alleged incident.

He also found the worker was unable to establish that the crystal employee swore at her or gossiped about her.

The crystal employee “cannot be criticised” for deciding not to be “neighbourly” to the worker, and the worker should accept the fact that the crystal employee didn’t want to respond to her “hellos”, the Commissioner said in dismissing the worker’s application.

But Commissioner Cloghan stressed that swearing at or gossiping about a worker were forms of bullying if they were repeated.

“Scurrilous denigration of a worker in the workplace would certainly fall within the boundary of bullying,” he said.

He also said the crystal employee should refrain from staring at the worker with a hostile look if she wanted the worker to leave her alone, and noted that the enmity between the women was well known to the management of Fremantle Markets.

“I suggest that the management of Fremantle Markets consider, and implement, some therapeutic policies to assist in their expectations of how workers on stalls relate to each other in the Market,” he said.

For further information

Ms Nadia Page [2015] FWC 5955 (9 September 2015)

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