Bullying and harassment is a serious issue and a common workplace complaint. If you are being bullied or harassed you should not take it lightly or think that it is acceptable behaviour in your workplace. Until recently, bullying was dealt with exclusively as an Occupational Health and Safety issue. Under recent amendments to the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) bullying can lead to criminal prosecution and punishment of up to 10 years jail. However, your complaint of bullying against your employer or fellow employee may be better pursued through the provisions of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic).
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) defines workplace bullying as ‘repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed toward an employee, or group of employees, that creates a risk to health and safety.’
Breaches of the Act are dealt with by WorkSafe Investigators rather than the Police. However there still may be criminal sanctions as section 32 of the Act provides that a person has a duty not to engage in conduct which recklessly endangers persons at a workplace by placing them at risk of serious injury. The penalty prescribed for such an offence for a person is imprisonment of up to five years and or a large fine.
You may have experienced some of the following types of bullying:
– verbal abuse, yelling, screaming
– abusive language or intimidation
– excluding or isolating employees
– assigning meaningless tasks or giving employees impossible assignments
– continually criticising someone
– sabotaging someone’s work or their ability to do their job by withholding vital information and resources
– belittling someone’s opinions
– unexplained job changes
– failure to give credit where it is due or taking credit for someone else’s work.
New Anti-Bullying Laws
The Victorian government elected to extend the offence of stalking contained in section 21A Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) to include workplace bullying rather than attempting to define workplace bullying. You may fall under this extended if you have been subjected to the following treatment in your workplace:
– Making threats to the victim;
– Using abusive or offensive words to or in the presence of the victim;
– Performing abusive or offensive acts in the presence of the victim;
– Directing abusive or offensive acts towards the victim;
– Acting in any other way that could reasonably be expected;
– To cause physical or mental harm to the victim, including self-harm; or to arouse apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of any other person with the intention of causing physical or mental harm to the victim, including self-harm, or of arousing apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of any other person.
It should be noted that prosecution of someone who is bullying you under the Crimes Act does not exclude the individual from being prosecuted and/or fined under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).
However Brodie’s Law and the OHS legislation may not be the best remedy for your situation. Your best remedy may be a claim pursued through the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission based on discrimination.
Disputes filed with the Equal Opportunity Commission must contain an alleged breach of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) and must outline the behaviour and the corresponding provisions which have been contravened.