The Melbourne Magistrates Court has fined a laundry owner $50,000 and ordered him to pay a further $50,000 in costs for his bullying that had ‘harrowing’ effects on employees and was a clear example of an employer breaking occupational health and safety laws.

The employer was found to have threatened to dissolve his employees in acid, which was available to him in the workplace, and told them, ‘if you are going to die, die quietly, or if you are going to cry, cry quietly, and if you have an accident, don't tell me about it.’

The employer also threatened to lock employees in sea containers with his dogs, often pushed laundry trolleys into them, taunted a female employee about rapists in the area, and deducted ‘penalties’ from wages for wasting time.

The employer denied he was guilty of bullying, stating that the claims were part of a conspiracy against him. The defence described its client’s behaviour at work as ‘old school’.

The Court rejected the defence’s argument, commenting that the employer’s actions were ‘disgusting and appalling’ and that employers should know that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in modern society or by the Courts.

What does this mean for employers?

This case demonstrates that employers need to be wary of managers who have an ‘old school’ approach towards the management of employees and that they receive appropriate guidance and training.

Employers need to ensure that they have a comprehensive bullying policy in place which clearly outlines the employer’s expectations, directions on what is bullying and the consequences of an employee breaching the policy. Furthermore, training on the content of the policy should be administered on a regular basis to employees.

Employer’s also should consider the Commonwealth Government report into workplace bullying issued in October of this year, which sets out useful practical information concerning the establishment of a national code on workplace bullying.