Empty classroom with blue, turquoise, green chairs, wooden desk, whiteboard.

Fair Work Commission finds that Principal bullied teacher

The principal of a school was found to have bullied and caused distress to a senior teacher creating a risk to her mental health in the matter of Ms Susan Purcell v Ms Mary Farah and Mercy Education Ltd T/A St Aloysius College (AB2015/261), highlighting how repeated unreasonable behaviour towards an employee in separate incidents can have a cumulative effect and still constitute workplace bullying. Fair Work Commission Deputy President Gostencnik found 4 of the 16 allegations detailed in the teacher’s Fair Work claim for an order to stop bullying, constituted unreasonable behaviour;

 

  1. In July 2014 the principal approved the teacher’s request to take Long Service Leave (LSL) at half pay. In December 2014, a payroll clerk asked the teacher if her LSL payment had been approved, however the principal interrupted and said the request had not been approved when in fact it had. The Deputy President said “the deliberate communication of the misinformation” about the leave payment was “unreasonable behaviour and was, clearly directed towards [the teacher]”;
  1. The principal allocated a new business manager to conduct the teacher’s Annual Review Meeting despite him having no background in education or being a trained teacher. The business manager was not allocated to conduct any other teacher’s Annual Review Meetings in 2014 or at any other time. The Deputy President found this to be “unreasonable conduct or behaviour” directed towards the teacher and the incident was part of a “cumulative effect of the repeated behaviour on the risk to health and safety.”
  1. Upon the teacher’s return to work from LSL in July 2015 she was advised that she was to undertake an induction program, which she did. The induction document states that it is for “new staff”, but the teacher was the only staff member of the College returning from LSL to have been required to participate in the program. The Deputy President concluded that such a requirement constituted “unreasonable behaviour” towards the teacher and that it was likely to have caused the teacher to feel “distressed.”
  1. The teacher was also assigned a mentor upon her return from LSL. The mentor allocated was a less experienced teacher, with a lesser period of service at the College and was not teaching the subject at the same level of the teacher. The Deputy President found there was no “evident or intelligible justification” for a mentor and that the management action was “not reasonable.”

 

While these four incidents might have seemed unrelated, the unreasonable nature of each act connected them and resulted in the Deputy President’s finding. Employers need to be mindful of the cumulative effect of all their actions upon an employee. There are mitigants that can be put in place to reduce the risk of these matters going to public hearing. Contact Bayside Workplace Relations to find out more.