In the recent case of Keegan v Sussan Corporation (Aust.)
Pty Ltd1an employee was awarded just under $240,000
in damages after being bullied for 11 days.
This case demonstrates how important it is for employers to
proactively respond to all workplace bullying complaints and have
policies and procedures in place to manage workplace conduct.
A new manager at Sussan's Cairns Central retail fashion
store was found to have bullied an employee returning from
The alleged bullying conduct included:
excluding the employee from business discussions;
ignoring her offers of assistance;
unwarranted criticisms of her past and present
repeatedly speaking in an 'aggressive and nasty' tone;
creating an 'isolating atmosphere' in which the manager
was generally friendlier to other staff.
After four days, the distressed employee made a bullying
complaint to her employer's Queensland business manager who,
instead of following the employer's bullying and harassment
policy, responded by calling the store manager to inform her of the
This did not resolve the complaint and the bullying continued
for a further seven days. The employee made a further bullying
complaint to the employer and was told to 'work it out
herself'. She was subsequently diagnosed with a psychiatric
disorder and filed a claim of negligence or, alternatively, breach
Justice Henry of the Supreme Court of Queensland found that a
reasonable person in the employer's position would have
realised that their failure to address the initial complaint
properly 'considerably heightened' the prospect of the
emotional distress worsening. Therefore, the psychiatric injury was
a risk that the employer ought to have reasonably foreseen.
Justice Henry concluded the employer was negligent in permitting
the store manager to bully the employee and that it had failed to
enforce its bullying and harassment policy. The Court awarded the
bullied employee $237,770 in damages.
It is vital that managers are properly trained to supervise and
lead their staff, and that employers adopt and comply with adequate
bullying policies and procedures, including following a fair and
transparent complaint or grievance process when faced with a
Importantly, a bullying complaint can run concurrently in
multiple jurisdictions, such as an application to the Fair Work
Commission, a complaint to the work health and safety regulator and
as a civil claim.
If you would like further information, please contact a member
of our employment and workplace relations team. Our team also has a
range of template employment policies available, including
prevention of workplace bullying, prevention of workplace
discrimination and sexual harassment and complaint and grievance
1 QSC 64
Winner – EOWA Employer of Choice for Women Citation 2009,
2010, 2011 and 2012
Winner – ALB Gold Employer of Choice 2011 and 2012
Finalist – ALB Australasian Law Awards 2008, 2010, 2011 and
2012 (Best Brisbane Firm)
Winner – BRW Client Choice Awards 2009 and 2010 - Best
Australian Law Firm (revenue less than $50m)
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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Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
Australian employees receive certain entitlements (such as annual leave and superannuation) where contractors do not.
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