Australia: Genuine threats of violence and an employer's duty of care

An employee who threatened his manager with "another Columbine" was held to have been fairly dismissed.

Threats in the workplace can arise from a number of different sources, whether it be a disgruntled or aggressive employee or from people outside the business, such as customers, contractors or former employees.

The management and prevention of violence in the workplace forms part of an employer's duty of care to employees and, as such, consideration should be given to the implementation of appropriate safety policies and procedures to ensure the protection of employees.

Threats of violence in the workplace can derive not only from physical behaviour, but from verbal threats of anticipated violence, as was the case in Lambos v ACT Government as represented by the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate T/A ACTION (Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network) [2016] FWC 3885.

Dismissal for "Columbine" threat

The employee in question, Mr Lambos, was a bus driver for the Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network (ACTION).

On 18 December 2014, Mr Lambos contacted ACTION's Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Coordinator to report his safety concerns regarding the "bottoming out" of seats on his bus, which could result in injury to drivers. Later that same day, after the matter was referred to Mr Lambos' Manager, there was a verbal altercation between Mr Lambos and his Manager during which Mr Lambos said words to the effect:

"I've had enough. If ACTION management touch me, this will be another Columbine".

The reference to "Columbine" was to a shooting massacre that occurred in 1999 at the Columbine High School in the United States.

Shortly thereafter, Mr Lambos' employment was terminated by ACTION on the basis that his statement amounted to a threat of violence, which was in breach of the ACTION Enterprise Agreement 2013-2017. In the termination letter issued to Mr Lambos, ACTION also explained that it had a duty of care to ensure the safety of its employees, and that threats of violence could not be tolerated in the workplace.

Application for unfair dismissal

Mr Lambos subsequently filed an application with the Fair Work Commission under section 394 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) alleging that the termination of his employment was unfair.

Deputy President Kovacic, who found in favour of ACTION, ultimately held that the comment made by Mr Lambos was a genuine threat of violence and that there was a valid reason for terminating Mr Lambos' employment. In coming to this conclusion, DP Kovacic referred to the decision of Senior Deputy President Hamburger in Priolo v Anthony's Manufacturing Jewellers [2004] AIRC 1097, in which he held that "a threat of violence can be justification for termination of an employee's employment".

In concluding that the decision to terminate Mr Lambos was sound, defensible and well founded, DP Kovacic also referred to sections 9(d) and (f) of the Public Sector Management Act 1994 (ACT), which imposed an obligation upon Mr Lambos, as a public employee, to "treat other public employees with courtesy and sensitivity" and to "not harass another public employee, whether sexually or otherwise".

What constitutes a genuine threat of violence?

An issue that arose in the ACTION case was whether the threat made by Mr Lambos was a genuine threat – was it a threat that could be taken seriously?

In determining whether there was a genuine threat of violence, DP Kovacic took into account the particular circumstances of the case, including the fact that the WHS Manager was fearful of Mr Lambos' presence in the workplace and the fact that Mr Lambos had sent an email to ACTION's WHS Manager stating that there "would be reprisals" if any action was taken against him. DP Kovacic considered that this conduct, when viewed in the context of Mr Lambos' 'Columbine' comment, amounted to a genuine threat of violence as there had been "a threat of some form of action, albeit it was unlikely to be a massacre".

Key lessons

When dealing with threats or acts of violence in the workplace, it is imperative that employers have appropriate policies, procedures and codes of conduct which clearly outline their expectations of appropriate employee conduct in the workplace, and disciplinary procedures that may be taken as a result.

This includes, for example, the requirement that employees act in a respectful and courteous manner to their colleagues at all times and refrain from engaging in aggressive or threatening behaviour in the workplace. The message should also be conveyed that even if a threat of violence is somehow intended as a joke, it may not be interpreted as such leading to a genuinely held apprehension of violence.

Other prevention methods include:

  • ensuring there are effective screening practices in place for hiring new staff;
  • educating and training senior management and/or human resources on dispute resolution and defusing hostile situations or conflict between colleagues;
  • adoption and implementation of a mechanism to report threats in a confidential manner, ensuring the person reporting the conduct is properly protected; and
  • implementing adequate security controls in the workplace such as appropriate surveillance systems and barriers to premises (through locks and other systems to control access).

You might also be interested in...

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.