A large construction company has learnt the hard way that bullying is not okay after being ordered to pay $1.3 million in damages after admitting it failed to prevent a female labourer being sexually harassed and bullied by her workmates.

The employee commenced with the construction company in August 2008 and worked at a number of sites during her employment. The worker alleges she endured daily harassment and alleges the following comments were made at various times.

– You are a spastic, a bimbo.
– Get out. You are fucking useless.
– Do you have to go home and hide your dildos and play toys?
– I had a great wank over you last night

The labourer resigned in July 2010 after being told by a colleague that he was going to follow her home, rip her clothes off and rape her.

The labourer had been reluctant to complain to her supervisor about the harassment she endured as he was responsible himself for some of the offensive remarks and allegedly had laughed when she complained about an offensive comment made by another worker.

The labourer alleges that after she had finished cleaning a pit the supervisor kicked dirt back in and said you missed a bit.

The above case illustrates that is it paramount that all managers and employees understand their important role as custodians of the workplace culture and that they have a responsibility to act appropriately at all times. In this instance the labourer’s direct supervisor did not act appropriately and was not proactive in creating a safe work environment.

According to John Boardman, iHR’s Director of Workplace Relations bullying is an abuse of power, real or perceived and if positional power is at play the impact may be more severe.

Boardman also advises that employers and employees both have an obligation to report inappropriate behaviour just as they have an obligation to report a trip hazard. Thus it is the responsibility of every employee to create a safe working environment. John also notes that under the OH & S Act individual employees as well as employers can be fined if they have not reported inappropriate behaviour.

It is also about managing risk, says Boardman. An integral part of creating a safe work environment is ensuring that appropriate training is provided to all staff on how to identify inappropriate behaviour and their obligations. This includes providing appropriate training to their staff about what constitutes bullying and appropriate techniques to address workplace bullying.

Furthermore, managers have an obligation to respond to bullying complaints quickly and ensure they are thoroughly investigated. This includes having a formal complaint resolution process in place.

Attend iHR’s Anti-Discrimination and Bullying Training for Managers to learn how managers play a key role in preventing and effectively managing discrimination issues in the workplace, as well as the management styles to avoid to reduce the risk of workplace issues and litigation.


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