Westpac employee wins compensation over workplace bullying

by Cameron Edmond12 Jun 2013

A Westpac employee has won compensation from the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) over workplace bullying.

Within the first few weeks of her employment, Abby Holt began receiving ridicule and name-calling over her light weight. As reported in The Herald Sun, insults were slung at Holt by her team leader and implementation manager, including ‘scabs’ and ‘coke puppet’. The ridicule also included insults about her clothing being ‘cheap’.

In addition, Holt’s team leader made false claims that written and verbal complaints had been made about the employee.

Queensland’s Prevention of Workplace Harassment Code of Practice (2004) defines workplace harassment as repeated, unsolicited behaviour towards a person who considers it offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening. It further adds examples may include constant ridicule, as well as persistent and unjustified criticisms about irrelevant matters.

When Holt informed her team leader’s superior of the harassment, he told her there was no longer a place for her in the business, later escorting her from the premises. Daniel O’Conor, deputy president of QIRC, stated this was not a responsible way to handle a claim of bullying and harassment.

The case again brings to light the detrimental impact workplace bullying can have on employees. HR managers must ensure they investigate and appropriately deal with all cases of workplace bullying and harassment, and ensure other managers and leaders are acting in a professional manner.



  • by Bernie Althofer 13/06/2013 9:19:58 AM

    Workplaces are becoming more interesting and more 'at risk' as people take liberties in the way they communicate with others. It seems that whilst respect and dignity should form the basis of how we deal with others, negative workplace behaviours including adverse, personalised and highly offensive comments are being used to target some co-workers.

    Getting people to understand above and below the line behaviours is useful in creating discussions that help people come to terms with what is and what is not acceptable.

    As cases are starting to indicate, people do take offense at comments that are being made, and workplaces are being put at risk.

    At the moment, the draft Code of Practice on workplace bullying has been released for comment. Workplaces would be well advised to conduct audits to identify hazard or risk factors that contribute to below the line behaviours. These audits might well indicate that management practices and communication are contributors to the rise of workplace bullying.

    Systems and processes must allow all incidents and allegations to be investigated fairly, without bias, and promptly. Where cases are not appropriately managed, there can be fallout in the terms of reputational damage not only to those directly or indirectly involved, but also to the organisation.

    It pays organisations to set workplace standards regarding all forms of workplace behaviour (and clearly indicate what is acceptable and what is not), continue to monitor those standard, reinforce executive commitment by leading by example, and conduct periodic reviews or assessments to determine levels of understanding (particularly as workplace staffing changes), and when required, take action equitably and fairly i.e. be consistent and apply the policy or procedures consistently irrespective of who is involved - no favourites, no 'mates rates'.

    People do have to understand the action - reaction - consequence model. When people don't understand this basic model, the consequences can be devastating.

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