Allegations have emerged in the news this week that workplace bullying could have contributed to the suicide of a law enforcement agency employee.

An inquiry by the Coroner is currently underway into the suicides of four employees and the wife of one of the deceased has cited workplace bullying as a factor in her husband’s death. An article in the Herald Sun over the weekend further alleged that three of the four suicides had links to workplace bullying.

Statements have been taken from colleagues and other relevant parties by a steering committee convened to investigate the deaths and related allegations of bullying. The accusations put forward by the wife of one victim claim that her husband had experienced unfair treatment, with incidents dating back to 2007, and had been the subject of malicious pranks in the workplace.

The employer was also criticised in the press last year when an inquiry was launched into bullying within the organisation with allegations describing the bullying behaviour as systemic.

The case highlights the growing need for organisations to treat workplace bullying with the level of seriousness required to prevent harm to workers and damage to the organisation’s reputation. The need for all complaints to be tackled promptly, using a fair process is paramount in protecting everyone involved, including complainants, respondents and the wider workgroup.

Engaging an external workplace investigations provider may also be necessary where there is potential for an employer to be accused of bias, particularly in situations involving senior management or high profile individuals. Those interviewed as part of an investigation could also be more likely to give open and candid evidence when speaking with someone external to the organisation. This in turn could also help to uncover cultural issues or other factors contributing to poor behaviour and complaints.

Although the findings of the inquiry are not yet known, that three of the four deaths have reportedly been linked to allegations of workplace bullying should be a matter of concern to employers and the workforce. It is important that the impacts of workplace bullying are recognised, particularly when training workers, in order to instil an understanding of why it is important to behave respectfully and appropriately at work.

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