The cost of bullying - a cautionary tale

I was at the gym the other day and I was involved in a discussion about how difficult it can be to ask questions if you think it will make you look stupid. I, for example, cannot operate the thing on the petrol pump that automatically dispenses the petrol without you holding it. I have tried and tried and tried. I am surreptitious about these efforts because I don’t want other customers to see me trying in case they think I am stupid. As it appears to me that it must be simple (men can do it after all) I have always been too scared to ask how it worked in case the Petrol Attendant went back into the station to his or her colleagues and they laughed and pointed at me for being so dumb.

The moral of the story is that the only negative to my being too scared to ask how to work the automatic pump thingy is that buying petrol takes longer. When you are an employer not taking advice can have brutal financial implications.


Ms X worked at a construction company. She had had a previous relationship with the director and had known him for 15 years. She had only worked at the company for a few weeks when things disintegrated.

The director swore “at a whole new level” about other employees in front of her. He used racial slurs, was extremely angry in the office, broke his phone in a rage, and accused her of stealing. It’s a fairly grim picture.

F*** Off!

The incident which led to Ms X’s personal grievance was her dismissal. On that day, her boss (her ex -lover - never employ ex- lovers!!!!) asked her what she was doing she told him she was invoicing. He basically lost it, swore at her and told her to f*** off.

Twisting the knife

To make things even worse, tragically Ms X had been sexually abused as a child by her uncle, for which she was receiving counselling. Her employer was aware of this and agreed to let her have time off work for the counselling. As she left work after being dismissed, allegedly Ms X’s boss told her he hoped she would be abused by her uncle again. This kind of behaviour almost defies belief.

Significant award paid out

Ms X was awarded nearly $40,000 for an overwhelming case of constructive dismissal due to workplace bullying.

It’s clear from the ruling and in particular the level of the award that the courts simply won’t stand for this kind of behaviour from employers. The ERA commented that Ms X was undoubtedly detrimentally affected by the treatment, and that the parting shot about her uncle was deliberately cruel and designed to cause maximum hurt and upset, which it did.

The employer was ordered to $18,500 just in respect of the bullying with the balance being lost wages.

I can’t help but think that the first mistake the employer made was even employing his ex-lover. You can’t be sued for being verbally abusive to an ex-partner, but you will pay for doing the same to an employee.