Manager's allocation of tasks outside job description not bullying: FWC

The Fair Work Commission has warned employees who believe they are being bullied that they are not immune to normal expectations that they comply with workplace policies and practices.

Commissioner Danny Cloghan found that a mining company's general manager did not bully an IT application developer when he directed him to take on a project that was not referred to in his job description.

He rejected the CITIC Pacific Mining employee's s789FC application for a bullying order, ruling that it was not unreasonable for the general manager to allocate the project to the employee and monitor his performance on it.

The commissioner said it was not uncommon for position descriptions to be "couched in general terms and not contain each and every current or projected task to be undertaken", noting that the employee's PD contained "no mention of specific projects".

"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. Such a situation would be tantamount to the Commission endorsing a one sided self determining premise as bullying in the workplace," he said.

The employee conceded in evidence that the company had told him that if he found himself in difficulties with the project, it would provide support.

Commissioner Cloghan said the general manager had in fact assisted him with the task.

The commissioner noted that the employee's contract allowed the company to vary his duties and responsibilities "at any time" consistent with his role, and also to allocate him duties outside that role as long as the "majority" of his tasks remained within it.

Commissioner Cloghan said the company was also entitled to look at events from last year in monitoring the employee's progress on the project, notwithstanding that it had completed his 2013 performance review.

"Such monitoring is not locked into a set review period or procedure — it is an ongoing process," he said.

The commissioner criticised the employee for accessing the general manager's electronic diary without his permission and for secretly recording meetings in contravention of the company's express direction.

"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that they are being bullied at work, this does not mean that the normal duties and responsibilities of employees are no longer applicable.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," he said.

Commissioner Cloghan said the employee had not been prepared to "see an alternative point of view", and could "only construe the words and actions of others as supporting his allegations and any alternative prospective should be dismissed".

"The extent of his conviction that he was being bullied at work, led [the employee] to produce in evidence, five voice recordings of meetings without the participants' knowledge, and contrary to an express direction not to record the meetings," he said.

"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."

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