New laws in Victoria have been introduced to deal with bullying
in the workplace which can result in jail time for offenders who
engage in such conduct.
The Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Act 2011
("Act") was introduced to the Victorian
Parliament on 5th April 2011 and passed in June 2011. The Act
alters the existing offence of stalking so that serious acts of
bullying will carry a serious jail term. The Act makes it clear
that abusive words or threats that could amount to stalking, or any
other actions that could reasonably be expected to cause physical
or mental harm to a victim, will be covered by the new legislation.
The Act also includes self harm and suicidal thoughts for those who
fall victim to workplace bullying as harm that can be caused by the
The legislation follows the tragic death of Brodie Panlock who
was viciously bullied and humiliated during her employment at a
Hawthorn Cafe in Melbourne for a number of months. The 19 year old
killed herself in September 2006 after suffering from repeated
indirect and direct physical and non-physical attacks of bullying
in the workplace. Although the conduct that Ms Panlock endured was
extreme (for example, she was spat on, called fat and ugly, on one
occasion had fish oil poured over her hair and clothes, and was
told to take rat poison to commit suicide), other conduct of a much
lesser magnitude could also constitute bullying and harassment
under the proposed new laws, and result in jail time for offenders.
In the case involving Ms Panlock, the four offenders were fined
collectively $335,000 and all have criminal convictions recorded
It is law in New South Wales that employers have an obligation
to provide a safe and healthy working environment free from injury
and illness. The obligation to ensure a workplace free from
bullying and harassment falls within this obligation. Employees
similarly have an obligation not to engage in any conduct that
could result in injury or illness. The laws in New South Wales
exist under the occupational health and safety legislation, and
impose fines and criminal convictions.
There is a move to push for what is being introduced into
legislation in Victoria to occur on a federal basis.
Notwithstanding what is likely to be a gradual introduction of
criminal sanctions involving jail time where workplace bullying
occurs, it still remains the case in New South Wales that employers
have serious responsibilities to provide a safe working
environment, and to ensure that employees are not the subject of
bullying in the workplace.
Accordingly, all employers should have comprehensive policies
and procedures in place that deal with harassment and bullying in
the workplace. Employees need to be inducted upon employment and
made aware of the options available to them should they feel
bullied or harassed, and the consequences of offending behaviour.
If you currently employ employees and there is no bullying and
harassment policy in the workplace, we strongly recommend that you
seek advice in order to implement one as soon as possible. This is
particularly important as workplace bullying may not appear on the
radar, as occurred in the Panlock case.
Truman Hoyle is a Sydney based law firm serving the new
economy industries across the Asia Pacific region. Australasian
Legal Business has recently ranked the firm's
Telecommunications, Media & Technology and Intellectual
Property practices as top-tier in Sydney. The firm was named
Australian Law Firm of the Year in 2005 and again in 2006, for
firms with 50 lawyers or less. In 2009 our firm was awarded the
prestigious ACOMM Award for Professional Services Excellence at the
annual Australian telecommunications industry awards.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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