Employers should take notice that they may face prosecution under state Health and Safety laws as well as under Fair Work’s anti-bullying jurisdiction for encouraging or participating in bullying in the workplace and thereby breaching their duty to provide a safe workplace for employees.
A Victorian employer was recently convicted and fined $12,500 for contravening state Workplace Heath and Safety laws by encouraging bullying of a young apprentice. The prosecution is unusual in this circumstance as these type of matters would usually be dealt with under Fair Work’s jurisdiction.
The apprentice worked in the employer’s construction company and was the subject of systemic and deliberate abuse. The abuse included having hot drill pieces held to his skin, sandpaper scraped on his face and a rag which was drenched in methylated spirits was held over his mouth. The apprentice was also the subject of continual verbal abuse. After working for the employer the young apprentice suffered from sever trauma and developed anxiety and depression.
The apprentice is reported to have told the Court that “”[he] would rather be burnt, bruised, assaulted, drenched in glue, water, paint, weeks’ old coffee and spat on all over again than to relive a week of the psychological torment [that he] endured”.
The employer was convicted of the breach and fined $12,500 by the Magistrate and was ordered to pay costs of $7,051.
Western Australian employers owe employees a statutory duty of care to provide a safe work environment under section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (OSH Act). Section 19 has been considered to enshrine the common law duty of care owed by employers to provide a safe work environment which may include a duty or prevent systematic bullying.
Under the OSH Act, corporate employers can be convicted and fined between $50,000 and $625,000 for breaches of the Act depending on the seriousness of the breach and whether there has been a prior conviction.
This case is a reminder that employers should ensure they comply with workplace obligations under State and Federal law and implement risk management policies.
This is general information only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters please contact our office on Freecall 1800 609 945 or email us now.