Sign company, director fined for workplace bullying

Monday, 18 March, 2024

Sign company, director fined for workplace bullying

An Oakleigh South signage firm and its director have been convicted and fined a combined $40,000 over the long-term bullying of a subcontractor. Printco (Aust) Pty Ltd and director Neil Pearson pleaded guilty to a single charge each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The company was convicted and fined $20,000 for failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work, while Pearson was convicted and fined $20,000 for failing to take reasonable care as an officer of the company. Pearson and Printco were also ordered to pay combined costs of $9309.

The subcontractor reportedly suffered verbal abuse, intimidation and threats by Pearson over a period of four years. The bullying culminated in a phone call in August 2021, recorded by the subcontractor, during which Pearson yelled, swore and abused them after they questioned the legality of working during a COVID-19 lockdown. The subcontractor described feeling anxious and worn down by the abuse and developed a mental injury that left them unable to work.

Inspectors from WorkSafe Victoria visited the workplace and found that the subcontractor was one of a number of workers who had been subjected to Pearson’s inappropriate behaviour. While there were policies and procedures in place to address workplace bullying, they were inadequate as they did not provide information about how to report inappropriate workplace behaviour; did not provide definitions or examples or bullying; and workers had not been provided any training.

It was reasonably practicable for Printco and Pearson to provide and maintain a safe system of work for identifying, reporting, investigating and stopping inappropriate workplace behaviour, including workplace bullying. To prevent workplace bullying and harassment, WorkSafe advises employers to set clear standards of which behaviours are allowed and which are not in the workplace through training and leaders role modelling desired behaviours. Employers must also implement policies and procedures to guide a consistent approach to prevent, respond and report workplace bullying and harassment.

Employers are also advised to encourage reporting, as it is important for those who experience or witness workplace bullying or harassment to know who they can talk to, that a report will be taken seriously and that confidentiality will be maintained. Information about workplace bullying and harassment, including relevant policies and procedures, must also be part of supervisor training and new employee inductions. Employers are also urged to carry out a regular check of the workplace in consultation with employees and health and safety representatives to identify hazards such as signs that bullying and harassment is happening or if there is an increased risk of it happening.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said WorkSafe will not tolerate this sort of “abhorrent behaviour” in any Victorian workplace, particularly when it is perpetrated by those in positions of power. “I hope this case can prompt other employers to reassess their own practices and ensure they themselves are setting clear standards for appropriate workplace behaviours,” Beer said.

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