An employer has been ordered to pay $300,000 in damages for failing to adequately respond to an employee’s bullying complaints over a five-year period.
The victim of the abuse started working as an assistant with Legibooks in 2002 and complained the following year to the Board of Directors about her sole colleague’s behaviour. She told them that she felt humiliated, intimidated, and threatened by his behaviour, which included violence and threatening to dismiss her, despite not having the authority to do so.
In response, the Board decided to prepare written employment agreements for both employees, in order to clarify their roles, and to create policies and procedures around workplace conduct. It acknowledged that it had moral and legal obligations to provide a safe workplace and that the victim’s health could be affected by her colleague’s behaviour.
The victim was happy with this response, except that the Board never did what it said it was going to do. Her colleague’s behaviour continued and she suffered a breakdown as a result in 2007. The Board stepped in at this point, hiring a workplace consultant and a professional counsellor for both employees. However, their action was too late and the victim was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and features of post-traumatic stress; she sued her employer for negligence.
The Supreme Court of Victoria held that the risk of injury to the victim was reasonably foreseeable, especially given the Board’s acknowledgement that the situation could be detrimental to the employee’s health.
It also found that Legibook had breached its duty of care towards the victim by failing to define the relations between her and her colleague or to create policy on proper workplace conduct. In addition, the employer should have followed through and investigated the bullying complaint.