The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has recently backed an HR director’s decision to pass over a promotion opportunity for an over-stressed employee, deeming it to be “in his best interest”.
The case involved an employee of the Darwin Hilton hotel, who was working as a guest service agent. The employee submitted an extensive application for an anti-bullying order, alleging his manager had belittled his sexuality and visa status. He also claimed that the HR director mishandled his complaint and overlooked him for a deserved promotion.
The guest service agent detailed to Commissioner Bernie Riordan that his overly assertive manager discriminated against him due to his ethnic background and sexual orientation. Examples included the manager blocking him on Facebook and making insensitive comments about his personal life.
Upon raising these concerns with the HR director, he was told that these incidents did not classify as bullying, leaving him feeling as though sides were chosen. He also expressed that the HR director used his mental health condition, caused by workplace stress, as a reason to deny him the promotion he’d been vying for. As a result of this perceived bullying, the guest service agent said he experienced depression, anxiety, and sleep issues.
In his plea to the FWC, the guest service agent sought an external investigation, his manager’s demotion, his promotion to a front office supervisor role, and an exemption from performance improvement plans.
The employer, Darwin International Hotels Pty Ltd, argued that the employee had misunderstood the conversations he had with his manager and the HR director, attributing much of his discontentment to missing out on a promotion.
Upon evaluating the evidence, Commissioner Riordan determined that although the manager’s remarks were regrettable, they did not amount to bullying. He clarified that they were made in jest, not intended to demean the employee, but rather, came from the mistaken belief of a friendly rapport.
Commissioner Riordan advised caution when commenting on an employee’s sexual orientation, job security, or visa status, as it can potentially lead to anxiety and depression. He acknowledged that the guest service agent found no humor in the manager’s comments.
Being a “firm” manager, as per the commissioner, doesn’t equate to bullying.
Furthermore, Commissioner Riordan defended the HR director’s actions, stating they aligned with her duties and obligations as an HR manager. Even if the guest service agent didn’t appreciate her comments or responses, it doesn’t imply bullying.
The HR director recognized the guest service agent as a hardworking individual but was also aware of his struggles with stress. Therefore, she suggested a team leader role, a lesser stressful position yet a promotion nonetheless, instead of the sought-after supervisor role.
This decision, as per Commissioner Riordan, was made considering the best interests of the guest service agent, emphasizing that he is a valuable member of the Darwin Hilton team.
Expressing hope that the guest service agent would manage his stress issues and continue his career soon, Commissioner Riordan dismissed the case.
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