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Bullying prosecution leads to conviction and fine for company and its director

Under work health and safety legislation, persons conducting a business or undertaking have duties to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of workers in the workplace. It is also accepted that workplace bullying is a risk to health and safety of workers which needs to be managed as any other health and safety risk.

Under work health and safety legislation, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) have duties to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of workers in the workplace. It is also accepted that workplace bullying is a risk to health and safety of workers which needs to be managed as any other health and safety risk.

WorkSafe Victoria was recently successful in its prosecution of a printing company and its director for breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act) for the bullying of a subcontractor.

Printco (Aust) Pty Ltd was charged with failing to provide and maintain systems of work that are safe and without risks to health in breach of the OHS Act. The employer’s director was also separately charged as an officer for failing to take reasonable care.

For over four years the subcontractor was subject to verbal abuse, intimidation and threats by the director which caused the subcontractor to suffer anxiety and develop a mental injury and as a result was not able to work. One particular incident occurred in August 2021 where the director was abusive, yelled and swore at the subcontractor over the phone when he questioned working during COVID-19 lockdowns.

A subsequent investigation conducted by Worksafe Victoria uncovered that other workers had also been subjected to bullying behaviour by the director.

In the Victorian Magistrates Court, Worksafe Victoria set out that the employer’s anti-bullying policy and procedures were lacking, in particular because they did not provide:

  • information about how to report inappropriate workplace behaviour;
  • definitions or examples of bullying; and
  • workers with any anti-bullying training.

Worksafe Victoria maintained that it was reasonably practicable for the employer and the director to provide and maintain a safe system of work for identifying, reporting, investigating and stopping inappropriate workplace behaviour, including workplace bullying.

Both the employer and the director pleaded guilty and each were fined by the Victorian Magistrate Court $20,000 (total of $40,000) and ordered to pay $9,309 in costs.

Lessons for persons conducting a business or undertaking

Bullying and harassment are psychosocial hazards which can lead to psychological injury. PCBUs have a work health and safety duty to eliminate, and if that is not possible, to minimise psychosocial risks so far as reasonably practicable. It is essential that employers have in place, at a minimum, clear policies and system of work in place in relation to preventing workplace bullying and to conduct anti-bullying training.

As this prosecution highlights, PCBUs and individuals – including officers and other workers can be prosecuted resulting in criminal convictions and penalties for work health and safety breaches.

Information provided in this blog is not legal adviceand should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liabilityfor any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, orfrom links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liabilityis limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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