A criminal conviction and substantial fine handed down to a Geelong builder found guilty of workplace bullying has served as a reminder to all about the importance of providing a safe, inclusive workplace.
A court heard that over a two year period, builder Wayne Allan Dennert subjected an apprentice – who began work for the man in 2013 at the age of 16 – to troubling acts of bullying and cruelty. According to the young victim, other members of the company participated in the abuse, with Dennert encouraging and participating in the behaviour.
Included among the list of accusations were incidents of the apprentice being spat on by colleagues, having hot drill saw bits held to his bare skin and having sandpaper run across his face – an act allegedly carried out by Dennert himself, according to WorkSafe Victoria.
“No employee should have to suffer such cruel, vicious and repeated behaviour at work, particularly a young man just starting his working life,” said Marnie Williams, WorkSafe executive director of health and safety.
“Young workers are particularly vulnerable to psychological and physical risks in the workplace, which is why supervisors and employers must take a real interest in their health and safety.”
Workplace bullying in Australia
Bullying in the workplace is a huge concern no matter where it happens, with our nation being no different. According to figures from Safe Work Australia, there were over 2,000 claims related to workplace harassment and bullying in 2011-12 – that’s almost three incidents a day.
Bullying in the workplace is a huge concern no matter where it happens.
The incident outlined above represents a more extreme example of workplace bullying, however there are obviously varying degrees of severity. The court ruled in this case that a $12,500 fine was justified, but bullying on any scale is a serious matter that companies must minimise where possible to protect their staff and image.
Harriet Eager, employment lawyer and partner from MinterEllison, noted the extent of the potential penalties for organisations not fulfilling their workplace safety obligations in this area.
“Officers who do not exercise due diligence to ensure that their business complies with its WHS obligations face a maximum fine of up to $600,000 and/or up to five years in jail. Workers can also be fined up to $300,000 and/or imprisoned for up to five years,” she said, according to HC Online.
To avoid unfortunate situations such as this case in future, businesses need to be fully aware of their WHS obligations. Download WorkPro’s ebook Workplace Bullying: What You Need to Know to ensure everyone in your organisation is fully aware of the laws and regulations.