When bullying at work becomes a criminal offence

A Victorian Electrician has recently been charged with workplace bullying under Brodie’s law.

For those who have not heard of Brodie’s law, the legislation was introduced in Victoria in 2011 in response to the tragic suicide of Brodie Panlock who was subjected to relentless bullying in her workplace. Brodie’s Law is Victoria’s anti-bullying legislation and makes bullying a crime punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

1 – Lets take this back in time

Late last year I attended a talk in Sydney given by Brodie’s parents, Damian and Rae Panlock, on Brodie’s law and the issue of workplace bullying generally. A parent myself, it was heartbreaking to hear of how their daughter had been subjected to extreme bullying at her workplace. Unfortunately, Brodie had kept the bullying from her parents, who only learnt of the bullying after her death. It is a tragic story that could have been avoided had this bad behaviour not been tolerated.

Brodie’s parents have been relentless in the pursuit of preventing this same thing happening to other people, and continue to call on every state in Australia to introduce laws similar to Brodie’s Law. And there is good reason. A recent University of Wollongong study found that half of all Australians will experience workplace bullying sometime in their career, with young males most at risk, a statistic we as Australians should quite frankly be ashamed of. What’s most alarming is that a 2013 Safe Work Australia report (“SWA Report”) found that levels of bullying in Australian workplaces are substantially higher than international rates.

2 – Clearly something more needs to be done.

Currently there are varying levels of legislation in Australia to deal with workplace bullying. For example, not long ago New South Wales introduced anti-bullying legislation that allows Fair Work to issue a Stop Bullying Order. Employers must also be very mindful of their obligations to maintain a safe work environment under Occupational Health and Safety Legislation. However, Brodie’s Law goes further and is the only law of its type in Australia, making serious bullying a criminal offence by extending provisions in the Crimes Act 1958 to include serious bullying.

It is reported that the magistrate in the case of the man arrested in Victoria under Brodie’s Law stated “We are not in the 1950s anymore”. The case has been adjourned until March 24. Whilst I agree with the magistrate’s comments, clearly in Australia things are still not great.

3 – Work place culture?

Those workplaces who wish to foster a productive and healthy workplace should aim to create a culture of a zero bullying. Among other things, businesses should ensure they have a good anti-bullying policy in place and train their staff accordingly. And why?

At a minimum it is your obligation to provide a safe workplace for your employees. But did you know this issue is also likely costing you thousands of dollars in lost profits. The SWA Report found that depression cost Australian workplaces billions of dollars because of sickness, absenteeism and presenteeism.

4 – Regularly checking the workplace

Terri Bell & Co.’s employment team regularly sees the fallout bullying has in the workplace, both in relation to the mental toll it has on employees, and the direct and indirect costs to employers. Employers take note. If doing the right thing by your employees is not enough to motivate you to consider if this is an issue in your workplace, you might want to consider that you are not only running the risk of breaching Australian laws, but from a purely economic point of view, statistically you could be losing thousands of dollars a year.

Let us know

If you would like to discuss this or any other workplace issue please feel free to contact one of my highly experienced team on 02 9191 9856.

IMPORTANT NOTICE – The information contained in this article is not intended to be comprehensive. It is general in nature and is not intended to be used as a substitute for legal or other professional advice. You must seek specific professional advice tailored to your personal circumstances before taking any action based on this article.

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