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Stop bullying order puts body corporate on notice

Onsite caretakers successfully made the stop bullying application after they claimed they had been “living in misery” because of unpaid invoices

A decision by the Fair Work Commission to issue “stop bullying” orders against a body corporate committee after one of its onsite caretakers attempted suicide, has been applauded by the Australian Resident Accommodation Managers Association (ARAMA) the peak industry membership body for Management and Letting Rights (MLR) in Australia.

Onsite caretakers successfully made the stop bullying application after they claimed they had been “living in misery” over the Christmas period because of unpaid invoices.

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A report from Denise O’Reilly, the Director of O’Reilly Workplace Law, said it was the second application brought by the caretakers “after the first resulted in a private conference determining preventative actions would be put in place after the worker had attempted suicide.”

 The second application agreed preventative actions were not implemented.

“The caretakers had sent vast correspondence requesting payment, each becoming more desperate before stating they had been ‘living in misery’ due to not having enough money to live on over the Christmas period,” the O’Reilly report stated.

“The email response by the body corporate’s treasurer sought to taunt and mock the caretaker for ‘living in misery’ and payment was not made for another 12 days.

“Whilst late payment as a result of poor planning may be considered reasonable management action, the email taunting and mocking the caretaker was inappropriate and it was reasonably foreseeable that it would result in distress and mental anguish.”

The Queensland Government’s Office of Industrial Relations says a worker is bullied at work if:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them or a group of workers of which the employee is a member; and
  • the behaviour creates a risk to their health and safety.

It advises anyone who thinks they are being bullied or harassed at work to apply to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) for an order to stop the bullying.

Any information collected through these processes would be handled in accordance with the QIRC’s privacy obligations under legislation.

ARAMA CEO, Trevor Rawnsley

ARAMA CEO Trevor Rawnsley said all the places where a resident manager performed their duties were considered a “workplace” under legislation.

“So any time a resident manager, a carpenter, an electrician or anyone else gets bullied, harassed, vilified or manhandled by someone at a scheme, that constitutes workplace bullying, and that is covered by the Workplace Health and Safety Act,” Mr Rawnsley said.

“There are huge penalties involved. A committee member can be fined $5000 for workplace bullying and it is no defence to say they are just volunteers.

“Unless the body corporate stops the bullying or harassment they can be liable for a fine of up to $25,000.”

Mr Rawnsley said most cases of bullying and harassment of resident managers were not physical but usually verbal or written, “using threatening words or coercion”.

“ARAMA’s point of view is that a scheme is the workplace of our members, and you just can’t mistreat people in a workplace whether you’re a big company or a body corporate,” he said.

“Workers wouldn’t put up with bullying or harassment in an office so why should they do it in the workplace just because they’re in a scheme?”

Mr Rawnsley said under workplace health and safety law both the body corporate and resident managers were regarded as a PCBU (a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking).

“Society these days is too quick to criticise,” Mr Rawnsley said, “and we see it repeatedly in the workplace.

“We even see bullying from guests sometimes who will threaten managers with a bad review unless their demands are met.

“But certainly there are very strict laws in place to protect resident managers from aggressive or angry committee members.”

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On February 14, 2023, the Fair Work Commission’s Deputy President Theresa Dobson ruled that the names of the parties involved in the case before her, be made confidential because of the damage it could do to other unit owners, but she still granted the interim orders to stop bullying.

Her judgment declared: “Ms J is the Director of Company F (the Employer) and Mr E is an employee of Company F. Company F owns the management rights to caretake and perform on-site management duties at a multi-residential private gated estate of around 93 homes. The owners of the complex are represented by a Body Corporate Committee (BCC).

“The Applicants sought orders against Mr K (Person Named) who is the Treasurer of the BCC and, during material times relevant to this matter, the Acting Chairman of the BCC. The Applicants allege that Mr K and the BCC have engaged in unreasonable behaviour towards the Applicants that has caused a risk to their health and safety.

“The same parties, among others not presently involved, were named and involved in joint stop order applications before me filed with the Commission on 29 June 2022. Those matters were resolved following a consensus agreement being reached in a private conference before me on 20 July 2022 (First Applications).

“It is helpful to provide some context around the First Applications and their resolution. In the First Applications, it was not in dispute that Mr E was struggling to cope with the situation at hand and had made an attempt on his own life.”

Ms Dobson ruled that she was satisfied that Mr E and Ms J are workers as defined by the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) in a constitutionally covered business, and that while the majority of the issues raised were reasonable matters to be raised by the BCC, “the manner in which they have been raised, including the frequency, tone, timing, content and approach detailed in that correspondence is not at all times reasonable and there are multiple incidents of substantiated unreasonable behaviour.

“I am therefore satisfied that the Applicants have been bullied at work by Mr K and given his role as Treasurer and acting Chairman of the BCC, that flows to the BCC itself.

“I am satisfied that repeated unreasonable behaviour has created an ongoing risk to the health and safety of the Applicants.”

The 2023 ARAMA TOP Awards Presentation & Dinner – the Management Rights Industry`s night of nights will be held on July 25, 2023, at the Royal International Convention Centre.

Get more information and Tickets HERE

This article was previously published in the management rights industry magazine Resort News – Subscribe HERE

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