According to a draft report released by the Productivity Commission on 27 January 2010, an estimated
2.5 million Australians experience some form of bullying over the course of their working lives.
The report indicates that "psychosocial hazards" such as bullying and harassment in the workplace tend to be more costly on average than claims for less serious physical injuries, both in relation to direct costs and time taken off work.
It is reported that a high prevalence of stress (including by reason of bullying) in Australian workplaces translates into direct costs to employers in Australia of approximately $10.1 billion per year, and costs to the economy of approximately $14.8 billion per year.
Research reveals that these costs are due to increased absenteeism, and the loss of productivity that occurs when employees are present at work but not fully functioning. These figures do not include hidden costs associated with increased turnover of staff and the associated recruitment and retraining costs, the costs of management dealing with internal complaints, and intangible costs associated with decreased trust, loyalty and staff morale.
The report has revealed that workplace bullying and harassment is not given the same attention in Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) legislation as managing other physical hazards, such as manual handling, working at heights and dangerous substances, and that this has led to additional uncertainty being placed on businesses about the extent of their duty of care and how to address such hazards.
Eliminating workplace bullying and harassment is an integral part of any employer's organisational OH&S commitments. Failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment can lead to criminal charges being brought by the relevant State authority against the employing company, individual directors of the company, and individual perpetrators.
For example, in the New South Wales case of Inspector Maddaford v Coleman (NSW) Pty Ltd & Ors , the employer was prosecuted and fined $24,000 and two directors of the company were found personally liable for failing to detect and prevent bullying from occurring and were fined $9,000 and $12,000 respectively.