Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Employers liable for workplace bullying

The allegations included verbal, physical and psychological bullying and harassment. Photo / Getty Images
The allegations included verbal, physical and psychological bullying and harassment. Photo / Getty Images

Law firm Bell Gully is reminding employers that they could be held accountable for workplace bullying after a prosecution case in Australia.

Carpentry business manager Wayne Dennert was prosecuted and fined for bullying an employee and encouraging other employees to join in.

Dennert pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide a safe workplace after his 18-year-old apprentice complained to WorkSafe Victoria that he had been bullied.

The allegations included verbal, physical and psychological bullying and harassment.

Examples of some of the abuse included the victim being drenched with water, spat on, having 'Liquid Nails' squirted in his hair, a meths-soaked rag held over his mouth, a live mouse put down his shirt, hot drill bits held against his skin, plaster smeared across his face and into his eyes, sandpaper scraped across his face, and being pinned down while a strip of paint was applied to his face.

Bell Gully partner Tim Clarke said while the case was extreme, it was also a timely reminder to New Zealand employers to toe the line.

"We haven't seen prosecutions for bullying in New Zealand but it's clearly something that is caught by their jurisdiction," Clarke said.

"This is something that is definitely applicable in New Zealand," he said. "It is pretty extreme to have WorkSafe actually prosecute an employer for bullying like that but maybe they wanted to send a signal to employers that they'll be watching out for this behaviour as well."

The victim began working for Dennert in April 2013 when he was 16-years-old. The complaint was laid in 2015 and in June this year, Dennert was convicted and fined AU$12,500 ($13,052) and ordered to pay court costs of AU$750 ($783).

The investigation into the complaint found Dennert had bullied the victim and encouraged his other employees - another apprentice and two sub-contracters - to participate.

WorkSafe Victoria said Dennert had also failed to provide the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to employees in relation to workplace bullying.

WorkSafe prosecutor Olivia Barnes said Dennert's behaviour was an appalling abuse of power.

"Not only did he use his position of power to encourage a bullying culture among his workers, he actively participated," Barnes said.

"Dennert had responsibility under law to proactively recognise workplace bullying and put a stop to it."

Magistrate John Lesser said young workers were particularly vulnerable to psychological and physical risks in the workplace because of their inexperience.

- NZ Herald

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