Workplace Bullying (NT)
In the Northern Territory, there is legislation at both territory and federal levels that seeks to protect employees from workplace bullying. Workplace bullying is any persistent or repeated unwelcome behaviour that harms, degrades, intimidates, offends or insults an employee or other worker. This page deals with workplace bullying in the NT.
All employees and employers in the NT are covered by the National Fair Work system, which includes provisions that aim to protect workers from harassment and bullying. Complaints under the fair work system can be made to Fair Work Australia or to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
In the NT, the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 also contain provisions that relate to workplace bullying where it poses a risk to workplace health and safety. Complaints under this scheme can be made to NT WorkSafe.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying can include:
- unreasonable work expectations
- threats of violence or actual violence
- spreading hurtful rumours
- displaying offensive materials
- aggressive, humiliating or intimidating behaviour.
Workplace bullying can be directed at any worker, including contractors or subcontractors, apprentices and trainees, work experience participants and volunteers, and outworkers.
An employer can be held liable if an employee or an agent of the employer commits an unlawful act during his or her employment, unless the employer can demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken to prevent the employee or agent committing the unlawful act.
Many employers have policies in place regarding equal opportunity and bullying and harassment, as well as grievance resolution procedures setting out how employees can make complaints and how those complaints will be investigated.
If bullying or harassment is occurring at work, the first step is to report it to a supervisor or manager, a workplace health and safety representative, the human resources department or to the union.
Complaining to the Fair Work Commission about workplace bullying
If lodging a grievance internally does not resolve the situation, the worker may want to consider lodging a Form F72 Apply to stop bullying with the Fair Work Commission (FWC). A person is eligible to make this application if:
- they are a worker in a constitutionally-covered business
- they believe they have been bullied more than once at work
- they believe they will continue to be bullied at work
- they believe that the behaviour creates a risk to their health and safety.
The application should include all the details of the workplace, the persons involved, the behaviour that is being complained of and its impact on the applicant’s health and safety.
The application will then be served on the employer and the individuals alleged to be involved. Each party will be given the opportunity to lodge a Response to a bullying application.
If the FWC considers that conciliation may help to resolve the situation, it will refer the matter for conciliation. If conciliation does not resolve the issue, the applicant may ask for the matter to go to a conference or hearing.
If the Fair Work Commission finds that a person has been bullied and there is a risk it will continue, it can make an order to prevent future bullying at work in the future. FWC does not have the power to make any orders for compensation.
Complaining to NT WorkSafe about workplace bullying
In some situations, a person may be able to complain to NT WorkSafe about a workplace bullying situation. However, NT WorkSafe will only consider complaints that fall within the scope of the Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act, employers must take all reasonably practicable steps to remove or minimise any risks to the health and safety of their workers. When a complaint about workplace bullying is made to NT WorkSafe, it will assess whether the workplace has appropriate systems in place to manage the risk of workplace harassment. It does not provide alternative dispute resolution or counselling.
Complaining to the Anti-Discrimination Commission
Workplace harassment may also amount to discrimination under the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act.
Discrimination is defined under that Act to mean any exclusion, distinction or preference that effects equality of opportunity or treatment in employment on the basis of race, nationality, colour, religion, political opinion, social origin, age, impairment, medical or criminal record, sex, marital status, sexual preferences, trade union activity or mental, intellectual, psychiatric or physical disability.
A complaint about discrimination can be made to the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission. The complaint should be made within six months of the discriminatory conduct.
Other criminal and civil remedies
In some circumstances, workplace bullying may amount to a criminal offence. This would be the case if the bullying behaviour consisted of:
- unwanted physical or sexual contact
- sending obscene material through the mail or over the internet
- threats of violence
- making nuisance phone calls or sending offensive emails.
These matters can be reported to the police so that they can investigate and consider whether to lay charges under the Criminal Code.
In some situations involving workplace bullying, an employee could have a claim for breach of contract depending on the wording of their contract of employment and their employer’s polices. If an employer has a policy that sets out how workplace bullying and harassment will be addressed and that policy is an obligation under the contract of employment, and was not followed, there may be a potential claim. The time limit for lodging a claim for breach of contract is six years.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.