Communication is key to maintaining employment relationships – but do your managers know how to?

It is commonly accepted that employees don’t leave organisations – they leave managers.  Recent case law has also highlighted the need for employers to ensure they are communicating effectively with their employees to avoid dealing with bullying and other legal claims.

Are your organisation’s managers avoiding dealing with poor performance or do they just not know how to?  Most cases involving bullying allegations result from ineffective communication behaviours – the good news is that effective communication can be taught, and the outcomes are significant.

Recent Case Law

In Burbeck v Alice Springs Town Council [2017] FWC 4988, a Children’s and Youth Services Officer at the Alice Springs Public Library made an application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for stop-bullying orders, alleging that she was bullied by her supervisor, the library manager and director.

The employee’s claim largely related to performance counselling, allegations that she had breached the employer’s Code of Conduct, complaints she had made that were not investigated and the revocation of her approved annual leave.

Communication training key learning

The FWC determined that four of the six allegations about the employer’s conduct constituted bullying. However, the FWC found that the employee needed to improve her interpersonal skills and that her behaviour in refusing to accept criticism due to a perception that she was more qualified than her supervisor was unreasonable.

Commissioner Wilson made orders for the purpose of “resetting the employment relationship”, including that the employer was required to hire an external organisation to provide anti-bullying and positive communication training and review its workplace behaviour and grievance policies and procedures.

What should you do?

All employers should aim to stop and prevent bullying behaviours, promote good working relationships and avoid dealing with legal claims. Where a claim does arise, the FWC will take pragmatic steps to resume working relationships such as clear policies and procedures and training for employees. Employers should look to safeguard their interests by proactively implementing positive measures to ensure effective communication which will avoid many legal claims, and lead to the FWC declining to make stop-bullying orders.

If you have any queries or would like further information, please contact:

Joe Mullavey
M: 0416 794 061

Published: 15 November 2017

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