EMPLOYERS in regional areas will feel pressure to address workplace bullying under new laws that came into effect on January 1, the Australian Workers Union says.
Employees who believe they are the victim of ''repeated unreasonable behaviour'' by a co-worker can, on payment of a $65.50 application fee, ask the Fair Work Commission to make an order for the bullying to stop.
Australian Workers Union Victoria occupational health and safety officer Jim Ward said employers in smaller centres, such as Bendigo, could be forced to address workplace bullying before it went to the commission.
"In small towns everyone knows everyone else," he said.
"So if an employer is reported for bullying and it goes to a hearing and that information becomes public, then it can be shameful for that business.
"And everyone in that town will know who those involved are.
"So these laws may encourage employers to put in measures so it doesn't get to that point."
Workplace bullying complaints are already being made to the Fair Work Commission, said spokeswoman Louise Pine.
"A small amount of complaints were made on January 1, when the laws came into effect," she said.
The commission, which must start dealing with all cases within a fortnight once an application is received, cannot order any compensation to be paid by an employer; it can only direct bullying to stop if there is a risk it will continue.
Fair Work Commission president Iain Ross said it was difficult to predict how many anti-bullying applications would be made from next month ''but we expect it to be significant''.
The commission has predicted about 3500 bullying claims could be made this year.
The new laws make it clear that ''reasonable'' management action and performance management are not bullying.
Accepted claims for mental stress in the workplace - about half of which relate to bullying - peaked in 2004, reaching about 8000 across Australia.
Since then, they have hovered around 6000 proved claims each year.
- with THE AGE