Tragedy turns glare on work bullies

The report estimated the annual economic cost of such ''psycho-social hazards'', measured in terms of absenteeism and poor performance, at nearly $15 billion. It also found that workplace bullying was not explicitly addressed in occupational health and safety laws…anti-bullying protocols, need to have an urgent discussion about how to detect and tackle toxic conduct in the workplace

http://www.smh.com.au
February 10, 2010

Tragedy turns glare on work bullies

AMONG the many stomach-turning aspects of the workplace ordeal that ended with the 2006 suicide of 19-year-old Brodie Panlock was the cheerful, suburban setting. She was not subjected to what magistrate Peter Lauritsen described as ''persistent and vicious'' bullying in the military, say, or in high school or in other contexts in which incidents of this sort usually surface, but in Hawthorn's Cafe Vamp, where she worked as a waitress and sandwich hand.

This is where cafe owner Marc Da Cruz allowed Nicholas Smallwood, Rhys MacAlpine and, to a lesser extent, Gabriel Toomey to torment Panlock, later dismissing what had transpired as ''just a boyfriend, girlfriend type of thing''.

This week's Melbourne Magistrates Court ruling, imposing a hefty $335,000 in fines on the three staff, the cafe owner and his company Map Foundation, sends an unambiguous message about the nature and gravity of workplace bullying. It is also, sadly and somewhat surprisingly, a message that needs amplifying.

Only last month, a draft report of the Productivity Commission found 2.5 million Australians experienced some aspect of bullying during their working lives. The report estimated the annual economic cost of such ''psycho-social hazards'', measured in terms of absenteeism and poor performance, at nearly $15 billion. It also found that workplace bullying was not explicitly addressed in occupational health and safety laws. South Australia is the only state that mentions inappropriate behaviour in its legislation, while only Western Australia and Queensland have codes of practice on how to detect and manage bullying. Small businesses, seeking clarity about their responsibilities, might be particularly well served with the latter. In any event, WorkSafe Victoria should consider an advertising campaign that stresses the illegality of bullying across all occupations and age groups. In time, an absence of workplace harassment should be as obvious an imperative as protective clothing and safety equipment.

This tragic case will no doubt send a shudder through small business employers and employees. These businesses, which don't have human resources departments to develop anti-bullying protocols, need to have an urgent discussion about how to detect and tackle toxic conduct in the workplace. As the slogan goes, workplace safety is everyone's responsibility; complacency is simply no longer an option.

Source: The Age

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/editorial/tragedy-turns-glare-on-work-bullies-20100209-npmx.html


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