Two separate workplace bullying convictions — one in which an apprentice was set on fire and the other involving a former police officer — have highlighted the willingness of authorities to enforce anti-bullying rules, with one of the involved businesses admitting it has “been a valuable learning experience”.
WorkSafe Victoria revealed in a statement on Monday (2 September) that it had secured $116,250 in penalties from Melbourne security firm Monjon (Australia) Pty Ltd and its director, John Bernard Moncrieff.
Mr Moncrieff’s personal website states that he was formerly a senior Victoria Police officer, prior to establishing Monjon in 1996.
The safety regulator said that both Mr Moncrieff and Monjon had on Friday pleaded guilty in the Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court to one charge each of failing to provide a safe working environment.
It relates to an October 2015 incident in which Mr Moncrieff pushed an employee in front of other workers, resulting in the WorkSafe being called to the company’s offices.
A separate incident outlined by the regulator said Mr Moncrieff had “refused to allow an employee to leave the office until she assured him she would not resign following the first incident”.
WorkSafe said that it investigated both incidents and determined that for the period between April 2015 and August 2016, Mr Moncrieff had “led a culture of entrenched bullying”.
“The court heard this included [Mr] Moncrieff speaking to employees in an aggressive and intimidating manner by raising his voice, swearing and using sexist and racist language to describe his employee,” the regulator said in its statement.
“He also made sexually suggestive comments towards employees, threatened to withhold pay and take away their security licences, made inappropriate contact with them, and encouraged a culture of managers speaking aggressively to employees.”
The agency’s executive director of health and safety, Julie Nielsen, said “under no circumstances is it acceptable for managers or directors to abuse their position of power” by acting inappropriately or aggressively towards their workforce.
“Bullying can have long-term health effects on workers that are every bit as serious as those sustained from physical injuries, and WorkSafe will not tolerate behaviour of this nature,” she said.
Mr Moncrieff was personally fined $19,250 while Monjon was hit with a $97,000 penalty.
‘A learning experience’, says Monjon
Approached for comment on the court ruling, Monjon issued a statement in which it said that the situation has “been a valuable learning experience for us”.
“We are committed to providing a safe and secure working environment for all our staff,” it said.
“When this complaint about two incidents was made four years ago, we immediately reviewed all our policies, practices and processes. We identified areas for improvement and acted on them.
“All our staff and managers have undertaken ongoing training in professional conduct, behavioural standards and constructive problem-solving. This training and our new processes have been independently audited and verified.
“We went to court, pled guilty, our plea was accepted and a fine was imposed.”
The statement continued: “We note that in court the counsel for WorkSafe, Amelia Beech, stated ‘we accept that dramatic changes have been made at Monjon, things are much improved’. She also stated that that ‘Mr Moncrieff is clearly an honourable man’.
“We also note the magistrate’s statements that Mr Moncrieff was remorseful, Monjon had changed its procedures and there was no likelihood of any further offences.”
It concluded: “We remain committed to continually improving our processes and providing a supportive environment for our staff, who in turn are devoted to ensuring the safety and security of our community.”
Second conviction over bullying of apprentice
Meanwhile, the equivalent agency in South Australia, SafeWork SA, on Wednesday revealed that a second conviction had been handed down over the bullying of a construction apprentice, who it said “was squirted with flammable liquid and set alight” in an incident in March 2017.
Site supervisor Luke Daniel Chenoweth was, according to SafeWork SA, convicted of a Category 1 offence in breach of section 31 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) for failing to meet his safety duties.
Mr Chenoweth was fined $21,000, with the penalty reduced by 40 per cent in recognition of his early guilty plea.
According to the regulator’s executive director, Martyn Campbell, this marks the second conviction over the same incident, after fellow site supervisor Jeffrey Rowe was convicted and fined $12,000 plus costs in June this year. The identity of the business employing the supervisors was not disclosed.
“Supervisors and other leaders have a responsibility to look after young workers, not physically abuse them in the name of fun or high jinks,” Mr Campbell said.
“This case highlights that this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable and the verdict today emphasises that view.”
Mr Campbell said that simply having an anti-bullying policy is “not enough” on the part of employers.
“Executives, managers and supervisors must live and breathe that policy to ensure it is ingrained in the fabric of organisational culture. Each has a duty to look after the health and safety of all workers and especially young workers new to the workforce,” he said.
“I would encourage every business to look at their own processes for how they manage bullying. If they fall short of the standard, then they need to ask for assistance to make sure they are legally compliant and doing what is required to ensure worker health and safety.”
Workplace bullying largely psychological
Speaking at Thomson Reuters Australia’s Mental Health and Employment Law Conference last November, the Fair Work Commission’s deputy president, Jonathan Hamberger, said that most workplace bullying is not physical in nature.
“Realistically, the cases we get anyway are almost always the threat to the psychological wellbeing of the employee. I’ve never seen a bullying case that’s actually about physical threats... It’s usually psychological welfare,” he said.
Mr Hamberger defined bullying as “repeated, unreasonable behaviour that represents a threat to someone’s health and safety”.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.