An Australian builder has been fined AUD$12,500 for the systematic bullying of a young apprentice.
He has also suffered significant reputational damage as the case has been widely reported in Australia and has also had coverage in New Zealand and the UK.
Some examples of the treatment the worker suffered include: having hot drill bits held to his face, his face sandpapered, a meths-soaked rag held to his mouth, ‘Liquid nails’ squirted in his hair and a live mouse stuffed down his shirt. He was also verbally teased and tormented on a regular basis and has, his father says, “an extremely long battle to recovery”.
After months of dreading going to work, he quit and went straight to WorkSafe Australia to report the bullying.
The firm was unable to produce any evidence of any action, information or training on workplace bullying.
The legal position
As in Australia, in New Zealand also bullying is a recognised workplace hazard. Accordingly, the requirement on the employer to provide a safe and healthy workplace environment includes an obligation to take all reasonable steps to prevent bullying.
This entails providing information and training on-site so that workers understand what bullying behaviour looks like and know to report it to a Health and Safety representative when they see it.
WorkSafe’s experience is that workplace bullying is prevalent in New Zealand and needs to be addressed. To assist, WorkSafe has prepared guidelines which are freely available on their website. They are part of WorkSafe’s 10 year healthy work strategy.
Employers who do not take steps to protect their worksites and workers against bullying, risk being in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act and may also be liable under the Employment Relations Act and the Human Rights Act.