A government employee who suffered years of racial abuse has received an apology from his former employer.

The Melbourne based employee was repeatedly abused by a colleague who made threats and said to other team members he would “destroy this Jew”. The colleague reportedly tried to turn other staff against the worker, asking them to make false allegations against him.

A witness who was a colleague of the victim spoke out saying that his testimony supporting the employee’s harassment claims was initially ignored.

The case took three years to reach resolution and the abusive colleague had left the organisation with a redundancy package before the workplace investigation report that found him to have engaged in racial harassment was released.

The harassed employee chose to make the case public after hearing that cases of this nature were on the rise within the organisation; statistics showed that during the 2012-13 financial year harassment cases had risen by 80 percent.

“I keep hearing of how this systemic bullying culture continues and after everything I went through it is so disheartening,” said the harassment victim. “They can’t keep doing this to people. The issue of racism, bullying and mobbing in the public service is too important to be swept under the carpet.”

The apology letter received from his former employer apologised for “the length of time taken to resolve the issue” and stated that the organisation was “very sorry that your employment with us got to this point.”

A surprising and concerning element of the case is the poor handling by the employer of the complaints made by the worker, who was reportedly sent for psychiatric assessments after complaining and treated as the troublemaker. the Herald Sun’s article on the case further reported that there were two botched investigations prior to the final one which found the abusive colleague guilty of harassment.

Although we would clearly hope that overt racist abuse of this type is rare in workplaces, employers should take note that if the worker’s complaints had been taken seriously and properly investigated to begin with, the situation may never have deteriorated to this point. The employer could have avoided embarrassing publicity plus the damage to team culture and internal reputation which has surely been done.

It is clear that the best way to determine whether unlawful or inappropriate behaviour has taken place, is to investigate thoroughly when a complaint is put forward and to act accordingly on any findings.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that employers who are seen to victimise the complainant or to not take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring could face hefty payouts should cases end up in court. A recent example of this is a sexual harassment case where the employer was ordered to pay $130,000 to an employee, for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from occurring.

iHR Australia conducts independent workplace investigations and also provides workplace investigation officer training.

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