Widening Job Scope not Bullying – and making a complaint confers no immunity

Tao Sun [2014] FWC 3839 (16 June 2014)

When a company’s general manager expanded the work areas of an employee, he was not bullying the employee according to the Fair Work Commission, in a decision which also went to applicant behaviour during the complaint resolution process.

The employee was initially employed for a specific set of tasks but FWC was unmoved by that fact, saying there was nothing unusual at all about jobs varying and expanding from what was originally envisaged. Of particular importance was the additional evidence that the company had offered appropriate assistance should the employee have found his new tasks difficult. In fact the general manager did assist the employee.

FWC was quite firm in its displeasure with the employee, pointing out that “it is not sustainable for employees to say that a task is beyond their skill level and if the employer does not agree, allege that it is workplace bullying.” This employee’s stance was particularly unrealistic given the assistance offered and given in the revised role.

As part of the determination of this case, FWC also made observations about the behaviour of the employee who made the complaint. The employee had taken certain liberties and conducted himself in a manner inconsistent with company policies and procedures. FWC had this to say about it:

“If an employee believes that they are being bullied at work, this does not mean that the normal duties and responsibilities of employees are no longer applicable. Because an employee believes that they are being bullied at work does not give him or her immunity from observing all the policies and practices expected in the workplace and in the employment relationship”. And further:

“Without labouring the point, because an employee believes they are subject to workplace bullying, that belief does not authorise the employee to behave in any fashion they think appropriate. Adopting such a course of action is full of difficulties.”

This decision is another example of FWC clarifying for employers and employees what is considered normal exchanges in the workplace and not bullying. And in reminding the employee that he was out of line in a number of instances after making his complaint, Fair Work is also saying employees are obliged to follow the rules, even when under some stress.