Cairns Employment and Workplace Lawyers | Employment and Workplace Lawyers

Performance Management or Bullying?

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Managing Employees is part of any workplace. It is a complicated business that only Managers and Supervisors who are appropriately versed in dealing with people can handle. The workplace has employee's who come with different abilities and personalities which could get in the way of performing their duties efficiently. This is why most Supervisors and Managers find it difficult to distinguish between efficient management and taking the risk of claims of bullying by a discontented employee.

Performance management in the workplace can only be effective if carried out in a positive light. However, it is not an easy procedure for most Supervisors or Managers. Even good organizations may experience instances where an Employee disputes the assessment and sincerely believes they are being bullied.

This is a problem that arises when an employee misinterprets what signifies bullying in the workplace. For such claims to hold water, there has to be unreasonable but repeated behaviour before they can successfully argue bullying. Low-level conflicts within the workplace, as well as unrepeated incidents of irrational behaviour, hardly constitutes harassment.

The primary goal of performance management is to bestow employees with an understanding of how they work or perform, where they are succeeding in, where they need to improve as well as a well-defined plan on how to make the improvements.

Performance management can also shield an employer from unreasonable dismissal claims. Excellent performance management has to do with:

  • Cultivating amicable relationships between Employee, Supervisors, and Management,
  • Training and development
  • Fostering honest and open communication around expectations
  • Bolster behaviours via recognition and feedback.


There is no law to say how often performance management should be conducted at work, however, it shouldn’t be an event that is done once a year within the organization, but an open and ongoing dialogue between supervisors and employees.

Employees who find themselves subjected continuously to performance management or employer supervision may start feeling that they are the subject of personal attack, victimization or bullying.

The workplace can be a confusing place, it may sometimes be tough to differentiate between bullying and equitable performance management, and this is even more prevalent if the employee concerned refuses to acknowledge their shortcomings. Despite the fact that the entire process is designed to be consultative and cooperative, it does not stop Employees from objecting to performance management and protest that they are being harassed, bullied, or victimized.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) is dedicated to hearing anti-bullying complaints from disgruntled employees that have misunderstood performance management processes. Over the years, many complaints from unhappy employees about bullying levelled at employers have been heard by the FWC and are categorized as follows:

  • Saying vague, unspecific, and exaggerated comments
  • Confronting the person instead of the behaviour
  • Homing in on something that cannot be changed
  • Drawing baseless conclusions
  • Shouting, sarcasm, belittling, etc.

Some employees, in order not to derail the possibility of getting fired, tend to employ this strategy of making use of stop bullying applications from the FWC.

Employers aggravate the issue by laying off the employee or using the same Supervisor that was accused of bullying to look into the matter.

Employers need to follow these critical steps to prevent or minimize bullying claims:

  • Disconnect bullying from performance management – There is no need to become overwhelmed when an underperforming Employee submits a bullying claim. This is something that can be dealt with, without the need to sack the Employee
  • Determine whether or not an official investigation is required – Ensure that you put a procedure or policy in place whereby formal investigations should be carried out. Starting investigation automatically could have dire consequences for the organization.
  • Determine whether or not a suspension is appropriate – It is considered safe to suspend an Employee on the grounds of further misconduct or if the said Employee will attempt to get rid of evidence.

In conclusion, always handle or approach every bullying complaint in the workplace with fresh eyes. Steer clear of making quick decisions. Employment law can be confusing so you should seek legal advice if you are in doubt.

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