Regional Airline executives found to have bullied worker

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Regional Airline executives found to have bullied worker

The Fair Work Commission has granted an employee’s application for a Stop Bullying order against his employer and three senior management employees. The order resulted from his claims that all three employees acted unreasonably towards him during a misconduct investigation.

The employee has been employed by REX airlines since February 2006 in the role of Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (LAME), based at Sydney’s domestic airport. He is employed by REX, an Australian regional airline that provides scheduled air services across seven Australian states. When the proceedings were heard, REX operated a large fleet of aircraft and employed around 180 employees in its engineering department.

Part 6-4B of the Fair Work Act 2009 establishes that a worker is bullied at work if an individual or a group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker, or a group of workers of which the worker is a member and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. However, bullying does not apply to reasonable management action, carried out in a reasonable manner.

As occurred in this case, an employee who believes that they are the subject of bullying at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to seek an order prohibiting the ongoing behaviour.

On 3 July 2017, the employee was in charge of the operation of an aircraft taxiing to an engineering hanger. While the aircraft was moving, it struck an industrial skip bin causing damage to a light and surface damage to the aircraft. The employee stopped the aircraft, inspected the damage, and filed an incident report.

As determined by Deputy President Gerard Boyce, from that point, the employer initiated what can best be described as a `flawed investigation’. Concerns identified by the Deputy President FWC included delays in scheduling meetings (the initial meeting three months after the incident, a show-cause meeting held nine months after the incident. The employer was found to have made statements that were not factual, based on the evidence available, including misrepresenting the employee’s position at the meeting on 16 October 2017 as obstructive and uncooperative.

The Deputy President was also critical of Rex’s refusal to supply the employee with safety reports and other documentation that he requested to assist him in responding to the disciplinary investigation.  As he noted,

The notion that an employee would need to obtain documents directly and centrally relevant to a safety investigation and disciplinary process that they are being subjected to, via their union having to make a freedom of information request, is in my view, disgraceful.”

A second incident involving the employee occurred on 10 April 2019. While performing a Line Check 1 (LC1), he identified what he considered to be corrosion on the aircraft’s propeller shaft and included it in his report. As an LC1 is a routine walk-around check designed to pick up very obvious or significant defects, the employer believed he was seeking to deviate from standard procedures by intentionally inspecting a part of the plane he was not required to.

Accordingly, combined with the previous incident, they sought to sanction him by removing his company authorisations, although they did not discipline him for this incident. However, the Deputy President ruled the approach of management towards him was unreasonable.

The Deputy President concluded that three employees had acted unreasonably towards the employee, each persistently trying to manage the outcome of findings from the two incidents. He also cited repeated failures by management to follow Company policies and procedures and to ignore important tenets of the Company’s stated culture towards employee treatment.

Mr SH (AB2019/196) 22 April 2021

For queries about bullying, harassment, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 WAL LAW, 0417 622 178 or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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