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'Sustained workplace bullying' costs employer $590,000

Written on the 13 August 2013 by Lynne Brook, Brook Personnel - Article compliments of Aitken Legal

An employer has been ordered to pay nearly $600,000 dollars in loss and damages after a long serving employee was successful in her personal injury claim against her employer.

The employee successfully demonstrated that the employer had unreasonably exposed her to a consistently unsatisfactory work environment that ‘cumulatively broke her back’ resulting in a severe psychological condition.

The employee had been employed since 2002 as a retail sales assistant.  During the trial, it was alleged by the employee that her manager had embarked on a mission of intimidation, harassment, belittlement and violence against her, including throwing a book at her head during one particular incident.

In 2003, she made a complaint about the manager’s conduct to the Board.  In response, she was advised that the employer would implement workplace policies and employment contracts, presumably as a preventative measure. They did not approach the manager regarding the alleged conduct.

In 2007, the employee again raised her concerns regarding her working environment, with those concerns again being met with promises to install proper workplace documents.  Ultimately, matters came to a head after the manager told the employee to leave the employer and find another job. Upon a further complaint, a Director of the Board appointed an investigator. The manager was subsequently subjected to discipline which culminated in his resignation.

In awarding $292,554 in pecuniary loss and $300,000 in damages for pain and suffering, Justice Dixon noted that the employer should have anticipated the risk of psychological injury when the first complaint was made in 2003 and that the failure to act ultimately resulted in their liability.

Key Point: Complaints of workplace bullying should always be acted upon promptly by employers.  With the introduction of the new bullying jurisdiction with the Fair Work Commission from 1 January 2014, it has never been more important for employers to take appropriate steps when a complaint is received.  As this case demonstrates, a failure to take reasonable steps in response to a complaint can leave an employer exposed to potentially large claims for damages.

 

 

Mark Bunch is a Partner of Aitken Legal, a law firm specialising in employment law for employers. www.aitkenlegal.com.au. The information in this column is intended as a guide only.  Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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Author: Lynne Brook, Brook Personnel - Article compliments of Aitken Legal