New laws passed and bullied employee awarded $600K in damages

It’s official! Following on from our previous bulletin (here), the amendments to the Fair Work Act designed to stamp out workplace bullying have passed. They’re set to commence on 1 January 2014, and not the original start date of 1 July 2013.

Hopefully the extra six months will give the Fair Work Commission a little more time to figure out how exactly it plans to deal with these new applications.

As a brief refresher, under the new laws workers who believe they have been bullied at work can apply to the FWC, which must then start to deal with the application within 14 days. How this will be done is a matter for the FWC but conducting a conference or hearing are given as possible examples.

If the FWC is satisfied that there is bullying, it can make any order it considers appropriate to stop it other than the payment of money. As set out in our previous bulletin, both employers and individuals can face pretty hefty fines if they subsequently breach these “stop bullying” orders.

But that’s not all that’s happening in the world of bullying. Just last month, a law book co-operative at Monash University, Legibook, was hit with a damages bill of almost $600,000. The Supreme Court of Victoria found that Legibook failed to take reasonable care of an employee subjected to years of bullying from a manager, including an incident involving the manager throwing a book at the employee’s head.

Despite the employee raising complaints, Legibook failed to properly investigate the matter or protect the employee from further bullying. Although the employer talked about a workplace policy, it was never rolled out. The Court was also critical of Legibook for failing to monitor the conduct of employees following the complaint and for not having a complaint handling process.

The Court concluded that the employee suffered severe psychological injury as a result of the bullying and was not likely to work again. The Court awarded a whopping $300,000 in general damages for pain and suffering, and past and future economic loss calculated to retirement age.

Is your workplace equipped to deal with a bullying complaint?