What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 26 December 2016 – 1 January 2017

Former Labourer Suing Employer for $3.1m for Bullying, is now Incapacitated from Working
Michael Deacon, a South-African born labourer, is suing his former employer for $3.1 million. Mr Deacon claims that he was subject to bullying by co-workers over a five-month period while working on Curtis Island. It is alleged that Mr Deacon’s co-workers engaged in a range of bullying behaviour including calling Mr Deacon “princess”, “cry baby” and “sook”, drawing a penis and testes on his bag, flicking spit-laced pieces of paper at Mr Deacon’s head and writing “Deacon is a snitch’’ in 2 metre high letters in wet cement. Mr Deacon also claims that his co-workers made racially discriminatory comments including “don’t trust a South African,” and “you don’t have black people doing the work here for you.” Mr Deacon reported the behaviour to his supervisor, saying that it had mentally affected him. It is alleged that his supervisor told the crew the name-calling had to stop and he did not want people reporting misconduct.

On 3 March 2014, Mr Deacon lodged a WorkCover claim for a psychiatric injury arising out of bullying and harassment. Mr Deacon has not worked since May 2014 and has been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. Medical experts say it is doubtful he will be able to return to paid work. Mr Deacon’s former employer, Bechtel, is yet to file a response to the claim.

Investigation of Bullying allegations at Mining Workplaces
The New South Wales Government Resource Regulator’s Major Investigation Unit is currently investigating a number of workplace bullying complaints at mining workplaces. Weekly government safety summaries show about 2000 “reportable incidents” a year in NSW mines, which include episodes of bullying.

Cost of Claims for Psychological Injury at NSW Dept Education Rising
A report released by the NSW Auditor-General has revealed that the cost of claims for psychological injuries in the NSW Department of Education is rising as a growing number of staff report allegations of bullying, harassment and violence. The report revealed, “while the total number of workers’ compensation claims has remained stable, the total cost of claims has increased by 36 per cent from $42.5 million in 2014–15 to $57.8 million in 2015–16.” Escalating claim numbers and costs in the psychological injury category drove this increase.

The report found that the total number of claims relating to psychological injuries increased by 32.5%, from 467 in 2014–15 to 619 in 2015–16. The associated cost of these claims escalated by 71.5%, from $15.1 million to $25.9 million over the same period. Bullying, harassment and violence was found to have had a significant contribution towards the rise in psychological injury claims. In 2015-2016, 208 employees lodged a compensation claim citing bullying, harassment and violence as the alleged cause of injury, an increase of 33.9% on the previous year. Those total cost of these claims rose 64.5% to a total of $12.5 million.

The Auditor-General recommended that the Department should consider the effectiveness of workplace health and safety strategies for addressing the rise in psychological injuries.