An Australian carpenter, Wayne Allan Dennert, has been convicted of bullying his teenage apprentice, after charges were brought by Worksafe Victoria under their health and safety legislation.

The bullying of the apprentice was particularly egregious, including:

  • a live mouse being put down the back of his shirt by an employee;
  • being drenched with water, spat on, and having 'Liquid Nails' squirted in his hair by an employee;
  • Dennert holding a rag doused in methylated spirits over his mouth, holding hot drill saw bits to his bare skin, smearing plaster across his face and into his eye and ear, and scraping sandpaper across his face;
  • Dennert regularly calling him derogatory names and questioning him about his sex life; and
  • Dennert taking his mobile phone and posting an inappropriate sexual comment on his female friend's profile page and making him believe Dennert had posted a comment on another female friend's profile.

The court decided that during the relevant period, Dennert had engaged in workplace bullying and encouraged his employees to participate in bullying behaviour. Dennert was convicted of failing to provide a safe system of work and the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to employees in relation to workplace bullying.

Dennert pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a fine of $12,500 and costs of $757.71.

This case serves as an important reminder that health and safety laws extend beyond the prevention of accidents in the workplace. Bullying should be treated as any other workplace risk, and measures should be put in place to eliminate the risk (including training that bullying is not acceptable, and a complaint mechanism to raise any bullying that is taking place) and to monitor the workplace to ensure that bullying is not occurring.

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