The Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011 (Vic) was introduced after Brodie Panlock, a 19 year old Melbourne waitress, was severely bullied at work. Brodie’s work colleagues spat at her and called her offensive names, and on one occasion poured oil on her. Tragically, having endured relentless and vicious workplace bullying, Brodie committed suicide in 2006.

Dubbed "Brodie's Law", the Bill has now passed both Houses of the Victorian Parliament and will take effect in early June 2011.

What has changed?

Workplace bullies will now be dealt with under the criminal law. The Bill extends the definition “stalking” in the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), the Stalking Intervention Orders Act 2008 (Vic) and the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010 (Vic) to include the following behaviours that are typical of workplace bullying:

  1. making threats to the victim;
  2. using abusive or offensive words to or in the presence of the victim;
  3. performing abusive or offensive acts in the presence of the victim;
  4. directing abusive or offensive acts towards the victim; and
  5. acting in a way that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm to the victim.

The definition of “harm” is expanded to include self harm and mental harm, such as psychological harm and suicidal thoughts.
The maximum penalty for a stalking offence is 10 years imprisonment. Victims are also able to apply for the protection of a stalking intervention order.

What do employers need to know?

While the Bill targets and penalises workplace bullies, it is as important that employers ensure they have up-to-date policies and procedures for addressing bullying complaints and that their employees are educated and aware of these policies and procedures.
It is also essential that employers and employees are familiar with the types of behaviour that are not considered to be bullying so that everyone is comfortable and understands how to engage in acceptable workplace behaviour.

Employers should also take this opportunity to refresh themselves on their obligations under occupational health and safety laws and at common law to ensure that their employees are not exposed to risks to their health and safety in the workplace.

How we can help

Workplace bullying is a very serious matter and the criminal penalties imposed by the Bill make it necessary for employers, and their employees, to be fully informed as to their rights and responsibilities. As an employer, investing in training and education will increase awareness and knowledge and help reduce workplace bullying incidents.

For personalised advice on how workplace bullying laws may affect you or your business, or to book a seminar at your workplace, please call RKL on {addressdetail telephone}.