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Bullying victim told: "Put some lippy on and go home to your bub"

24 April 2014

A recent case in the Supreme Court of Queensland showed just how costly it can be for an employer to ignore a workplace bullying claim.

An employee returning to work after parental leave found her previous manager had left during her absence and been replaced by a new person. As assistant manager, the employee was expected to work closely with the new manager, but on the fourth day of her return to work she reported experiencing bullying behaviour.

Interestingly, the new manager whose conduct was in question had been given an unflattering reference from a former employer during the recruitment process. The reference explained she "did not believe that [the employee] was manager material and she would need to learn management skills and people skills". Despite this, the business manager who recruited her only offered the new manager simple on-the-job training and a brief induction that included the store's bullying and harassment policy.

After being back at work for four days, the assistant manager reported to the business manager that the new manager had given her aggressive and inappropriate criticism. It was at this point that the business manager told the assistant manager to "put some lippy on and go home to [her] bub {sic}" a comment described by the judge as "patronising advice".

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The business manager failed to follow the store's policy on bullying and harassment which required her to treat the complaint seriously and investigate, and the bullying behaviour continued. Shortly after complaining a second time and being told by the business manager that she would have to address the issue with the alleged bully herself, the assistant manager reported her mental health declined to the point where she was unable to care for herself and her child.

When the case was brought before the Supreme Court, the employer was found to have breached its duty of care and the assistant manager was awarded just under $240,000 in damages.

This case demonstrates how important it is for both employees and employers to receive adequate workplace bullying training to ensure correct procedures are followed when a claim is made. Furthermore, those with the responsibility to conduct internal workplace investigations into inappropriate behaviour must also have comprehensive training to ensure complaints are treated seriously and a fair process is followed.

Additionally this case highlights the need for further preventative measures such as selection and interviewing training for anyone with recruitment responsibilities to make sure new staff are suitable for their roles, alongside comprehensive induction and training for new managers needing to develop their people management skills.

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