Legal Cases for Bullying
Green versus Deutsche Bank
Employer’s failure to manage team’s insubordination
Victimisation and unfair dismissal of legal secretary
Company held vicariously liable for extreme bullying
Unfair dismissal following bullying
Employer makes unreasonable and humiliating demands – refusal by employee – unfair dismissal
A woman performing office and driving duties for a caravan manufacturer was unreasonably abused in circumstances where the employer had made unreasonable and even humiliating demands upon the applicant. The employer had insisted that the applicant do the company banking during her lunch break. He had also demanded that the woman ask bank tellers to fax a copy of a bank cheque drawn in favour of a supplier back to the office. She had reluctantly done so but was embarrassed at having to make such an unusual request. Her employer reacted angrily to her complaint that she had missed her lunch break while in the bank, and to her claim that she could not drive out again to procure manufacturing parts without having had lunch and while she was still feeling upset by his abusive remarks. The NSW commission accepted the evidence of the applicant that she was effectively dismissed, when the employer gave her an ultimatum that if she was not prepared to drive she would be sacked. The commission held that the employer's request that she drive to the suppliers' premises in the afternoon was reasonably refused by the applicant. Her summary dismissal was unwarranted and unfair. "The mere fact that she [was] an employee and often seen by some as a servant, [did] not excuse the sort of conduct that [the employer] indulged in." The commission awarded her an amount of $8,400 gross.
Dismissal for breach of Code of Conduct
Mr Purser was employed as a Senior Legal Officer by the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department. He had been dismissed for breaching the Australian Public Service (APS) Code of Conduct. Evidence was given that he had used physically and verbally abusive behaviour towards staff on many occasions. His behaviour included pushing, use of an aggressive posture, yelling, unreasonably criticising work performance and refusal to delegate and transfer files to another legal officer.
Legal secretary succeeds in her action for unfair dismissal
Wadswoth v Akers and Woolworths Ltd t/as Big W Discount Stores  QADT 17 (9 July 2007)
Suicide following workplace bullying and discrimination – findings of a Coronial inquest 2018
Suicide following workplace bullying and discrimination – findings of a coronial inquest 2018
A 53-year-old employee who had worked as an Executive Assistant for the Northern Territory Department of Children and Families for 32 years was demoted in November 2016 following a mental breakdown. The employee’s managers suggested that she be temporarily demoted in order to reduce her ongoing anxiety. HR advised the employee’s managers that the demotion could only occur if the employee consented to a reduction in pay or that she underwent performance management. The financial impact of the forthcoming reduction in pay caused the employee concern which she voiced.
The court heard that the employee was “known to be a meek, quiet and compliant worker who tried her best and was always willing to please”. After her breakdown she was fearful of losing her job and sought reassurance from her managers and work colleagues.
The employee had a number of meetings with her managers during October / November 2016 which did not follow fair process. The employee was not given the opportunity to have a support person at the meetings, the subject of one being “revised workload”. The employee was offered a demotion and informed that it would incur a reduction in pay.
Another “formal meeting” was called with very short notice, without the employee being informed in advance about what the meeting was about and without the employee being invited to bring along a support person.
Following her demotion, the employee’s manager jokingly pointed out that the employee would no longer be able to afford to purchase her regular morning coffee on the way to work.
As well, during a meeting when the employee was doodling on a piece of paper, her manager publicly humiliated her by saying “(…) will share her minutes with everyone”. The employee hanged herself the day after the meeting which her psychiatrist considered was likely to have been a “critical event”.
In the Coroner’s Court in Darwin on 25 July 2018, Justice Greg Cavanagh condemned, the way in which the employee’s employer demoted her, bullied her and discriminated against her. He also condemned the way her case was handled by the mental health services accessed by her.
The Judge said that the HR Unit should have prevented the employee’s demotion and instead supported her whilst reducing her work activities or responsibilities as part of a support plan which “would not include a reduction in remuneration”.
"The conduct of the managers in holding meetings without providing appropriate information about the agenda, without giving appropriate notice or a reasonable opportunity to have a support person present, the teasing about not being able to afford coffee and the humiliation in front of fellow workers was not reasonable management action. In my opinion it was bullying," he said.
Judge Cavanagh stated that the Department’s HR Unit should have prevented the demotion rather than supporting the employee’s managers in the endeavour.
He also pointed out that the Department’s treatment of the employee breached Section 24 of the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act in that the Department failed to accommodate the employee’s attribute namely, “psychiatric or psychological disease or disorder, whether permanent or temporary”.
Territory Families sought an external consultant to review the support or lack thereof given to the employee by Territory Families staff.
The review recommendations included:
The 2010 Australian Human Rights Commission: Workers with Mental Illness – a Practical Guide for Managers be sourced and distributed to managers;
Beyond Blue’s National Workplace program be investigated to determine whether it could be delivered to managers;
Implementation of an unplanned leave reporting system;
Employees with non-work-related injury or condition are provided with a reasonable adjustment plan and monitored appropriately.
Judge Cavanagh recommended that the Department continue training managers as it had begun to do following the death and that HR personnel ensure that they are aware of their responsibility toward employees, particularly those suffering impairment, and that all staff refrain from bullying behaviour.
The court heard that the Department has since introduced mental health training for senior managers, a care plan for employees as well as a model to foster a “culture of conversations”.
You can read the full Coronial findings here:
Inquest into the death of Paula Michele Schubert  NTLC 020 (25 July 2018).