An employee returning from maternity leave was found to have been bullied.

The alleged bullying conduct included:

  • Excluding the employee from business discussions
  • Ignoring her offers of assistance
  • Unwarranted criticisms of her past and present performance
  • Repeatedly speaking in an “aggressive and nasty”
  • Creating an “Isolating atmosphere” in which the manager was generally friendlier to other staff

After four days, the distressed employee made a bullying complaint to her employer’s Queensland business manager who, instead of following the employer’s bullying and harassment policy, responded by calling the store manager to inform her of the complaint.

This did not resolve the complaint and the bullying continued for a further seven days. The employee made a further bullying complaint to the employer and was told to “work it out herself”. She was subsequently diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and filed a claim of negligence or, alternatively, breach of contract.

Justice Henry of the Supreme Court of Queensland found that a reasonable person in the employer’s position would have realised that their failure to address the initial complaint properly “considerably heightened” the prospect of the emotional distress worsening. Therefore, the psychiatric injury was a risk that the employer ought to have reasonably foreseen (my emphasis).

Justice Henry concluded the employer was negligent in permitting the store manager to bully the employee and that it had failed to enforce its bullying and harassment policy. The Court awarded the bullied employee $237,770 in damages.

[1] Keegan v Sussan Corporation (Aust.) Pty Ltd [2014] QSC 64

Greg Reiffel Industrial Relations & Human Resources Consulting has been providing the following services to businesses for over 30 years:

 

  • General HR and IR advisory service.
  • Fair Work Commission representation (eg unfair dismissals, adverse actions, etc.).
  • Workplace investigations and mediations.
  • Policies and procedures.
  • Discipline & Termination.
  • People Audits (are you at risk of prosecution?).
  • Enterprise Agreements, Contracts of Employment, Individual Flexibility Agreements.
  • On-site HR services.

Contact Greg on 0438 906 050 or mailto: greg@gregreiffelconsulting.com.au.