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Bullying conviction under WHS laws a salutary warning to businesses

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HC Online | 15 Jun 2016, 10:49 AM Agree 0
The criminal conviction of an employer for serious bullying of an apprentice represents a stark warning for employers.
  • Philip Crowther | 15 Jun 2016, 01:00 PM Agree 1
    Whilst the conviction of the employer under the WHS laws is good. The small fine for such actions seems inconsequential. What about charges for physical assault under criminal law?
  • Bernie Althofer | 15 Jun 2016, 01:23 PM Agree 0
    This case indicates some changes that are occurring regarding approaches towards penalties being imposed in relation to bullying and work health and safety. Whilst some may at this stage question the severity of the penalty imposed, others will believe it will send a warning to other businesses.

    Over the years there have been a number of decisions and findings made through various Courts, Commissions and Tribunals, as well as input from 'interested parties' regarding the physical and psychological impact of bullying, not to mention the financial impact. Some organisations may systems and processes in place to review those decisions and findings and then test internal controls as per the hierarchy of control to minimise potential exposures to their organisation or to their employees at all levels.

    It was interesting to note comments reportedly made by the target in this case that the psychological treatment was worse than the physical treatment. In terms of penalties, it may be that in future cases, there may be more consideration given towards the psychological damage caused during the assault; the long term impact of such psychological damage; whether the 'offender' should be charged under criminal law and not just work health and safety law; and what penalties are appropriate given the circumstances and context of each case.

    It is difficult to make judgements on specific cases. However, it does appear from reading various contributions made in discussion groups is that the psychological impact and scarring from bullying may last for numerous years. In at least contribution, there was an indication that the impact continued for at least 19 years. Making decisions about penalties may not be as easy as some would like to believe. It may be that this decision is a deterrent. However, learning and development programs need to reflect decisions such as this particularly when workplace bullying is being addressed.

    It appears that in some cases, prosecutions will occur and result in penalties being imposed, whereas in the past, this may have not have occurred. The decision may serve as 'fair warning' to let employers know that there is a prosecutorial risk involved with bullying, and that it could be damaging to individual and organisational reputations.
  • HR Manager | 15 Jun 2016, 01:27 PM Agree 1
    I agree with Philip, this isn't bullying it is criminal, and is Assault. He should have been prosecuted in the criminal courts and may have received some incarceration as well. this is appalling behaviour and if it is possible, and it may be,he also should face criminal prosecution so I would report it to the police as well. He has quite possibly damaged this kid for life I know if he was my son I would not be allowing anything less than criminal charges and they owe it to their son and other people that will follow in his tracks. Well you may say that the bullying has more success in the commission. In fact they do not have any power to punish at all and a lot of people end up leaving and the commissions response is that they are not there any more to be bullied and they don't have the power to prosecute the employer. they can only issue an order for it to stop. Unfortunately you have a very short time span in a company if you complain about anything because you would clearly not be welcome and psychological abuse lasts forever. WHS is the only place a prosecution should take place if it is psychological but if anything physical happens, Police immediately. People only take notice when they are fined and substantially or imprisoned as sad as that may be.
  • Harriet STACEY | 16 Jun 2016, 10:09 PM Agree 1
    The behavior is quite clearly criminal but this conviction is a start. Sadly it appears to be our young workers and apprentices who are the victims of the worst workplace bullying and victimization.
  • Maureen Kyne | 21 Jun 2016, 07:24 AM Agree 0
    This case should have been tried under the Amended Stalking Act. If so this employer would be in jail just as the Woolworths employee from Gippsland is. Let's see how he then feels losing his privileges and being subjected possible thuggery in jail.
    This fine is so weak and is not a deterrent to many employers who behave in an unlawful way. It saddens me that we have governing authorities that are not prepared to throw the book at these vagrant employers and employees for work health safety breaches.
    Agree with the comments above that this young person is now damaged for a very long time. So what sort of compensation has he been awarded and how much psychological support is he being provided?
    Education is imperative but many employers are ashamed to admit they have bullying happening in their workplace and only put their hand up for help when things go terribly wrong.
    If employers invest early they create a culture of employees who want to work for you creating a great place to work that is highly productive.
    Trust me I have seen and investigated some extreme cases and I see the fall out not only in the workplace but also an employee’s personal life and then the wider community.
    If you are an employer reading this, I ask you to have the courage to own this and seek help.

    Maureen Kyne & Associates
    'Game Changer for Workplace Behavioural Change'
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