Bullying Claim Highlights Change Management Rights

A.B. [2015] FWC 3353 (4 June 2015)

When an employee was told to lift her game as part of closer management amid changes needed in the organisation, she did not want to perform the expanded role, so claimed she was being bullied. The Fair Work Commission disagreed and dismissed her case, saying the employer had acted reasonably.

The employer had come to realise that a particular section within the organisation was not carrying its weight, was being cross-subsidised by other divisions and needed to improve dramatically. As part of that exercise, the employer required all the employees to fulfil a broader range of tasks.

The employee did not like the additional responsibilities despite the additional tasks being included in her job description. However she couched her complaint in terms of being micro-managed and unreasonably performance managed. Ultimately her dislike of the additional duties and her dislike of the overall productivity improvement of the division demanded by the employer told against her claims of bullying.

The FWC dismissed her claim and in doing so, made no criticism of the employer as it sought to extract greater effort from the division. In relation to this key issue FWC said “There is no doubt that the organisations work intensity has increased and there is a greater focus on performance management. This was necessary in order for the organisation to survive financially. In turn, this has led to a significant turnover of staff.”

This case reminds employers that provided the employee has prior warning (the job description) and that where relevant additional training is offered, ramping up the work effort in a moribund situation is well within rights. It is telling that the division experienced “significant turnover” as a result of this action in this case, but in the end, FWC found the employer was acting within rights and with due respect and consideration to staff.