Over the last few years there has been a lot of attention given to the issues of discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace. In fact, there have been a number of high profile cases throughout Australia and other countries in which harassment or bullying claims have been made against employers and fellow employees as well as other claims and successful prosecutions made by the relevant Work Health and Safety regulator.
Who can forget Brodie Panlock, the 19 year old waitress, who tragically took her own life after enduring persistent and vicious bullying at work? Indeed as I write this, the Federal Labour government has draft amendments in place that have further revised and tightened up the laws as they pertain to harassment and workplace bullying.
It is now very clear that employers and all employees must be alert to the possibility of bullying, victimisation, harassment and discrimination occurring in their workplaces, and so, they must also manage their risk against this occurring and the probability of potential legal claims and prosecutions.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, employers are responsible for acts of discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, victimisation and racial and religious vilification by their employees or agents that occur in the workplace or in connection with a person’s employment, unless they can show they have taken reasonable precautions to prevent such acts.
This is known as vicarious liability.
I recently heard a small business owner ring up a popular Melbourne talk radio morning host to complain that he had 5 harassment claims with 5 different employees and one of them was over the use of a coffee cup!
Now his point, at least in part was the burgeoning culture of litigation but, it got me thinking again about harassment and bullying in Australian Workplaces and just how much small and medium business owners and the managers who represent them know or care about it, at least in the actions they take (or don’t take) to protect their employees!
It’s hard to imagine but the Fair Work Commission expects to process in excess of 3,500 cases once the new Federal laws are updated. The Beyond Bullying Association, estimates that between 400,000 and two million Australians will be harassed at work, while 2.5 to 5 million will experience workplace harassment at some time during their career.
All business owners and the managers who act for them have a duty of care to their employees, their customers, suppliers and indeed anyone who visits the workplace, and this duty of care is to provide a safe and healthy workplace that is free from discrimination and harassment.
Similarly, all business owners have a responsibility to their business partners, directors and boards, to ensure their business is protected from costly claims and the significant costs associated with litigation as well as the fines imposed for failure to comply with laws and regulations. Yet, it amazes me how little awareness there is, particularly amongst small business owners, of the legislation both under the work health and safety regulators and employment law and the significant risks they expose their employees and their business too on a regular basis.
The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission indicate that the average claim awarded is around $50K with claims ranging from $10K – $220K and this is just the payout figure without any of the legal and other associated costs incurred with contesting a claim. I wonder how many small and medium business owners could absorb this sort of payout on their bottom line?
The sad irony is that it’s not that hard to protect your workforce and your business.
You can start by putting together a code of conduct and implementing a few clear and easy to understand policies and procedures in your workplace that define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, spell out the serious consequences of unacceptable behaviour and encourage employees to make a complaint with the confidence that it will be dealt with fairly.
The team at the College for Adult Learning believe that this is so important and the solution so easy to address that we are inviting all business owners, line managers and team leaders to attend:
Tuesday 30 July 12.30 – 1.30pm EST.
To reserve your place click on the link here: