Brodie’s Law not being applied. Perhaps a broader context is needed.

Workplace bullying is a hazard that must be recognized, addressed and punished, but above all prevented. “Brodie’s Law” was always going to be a part of this challenge but never the solution.

Today’s Age newspaper bemoans the fact that “Brodie’s Law” has not been applied since its introduction 12 months ago.  This is not surprising and the article provides some clues to why.

The application of this law seems now to be mainly intended for the Victorian Police force and, as with any police force, there are a great many items on their agenda of which workplace bullying is only one.

Policing and harm prevention

It can also be asked why the Victorian Police force is policing a workplace issue?  Workplace safety is principally the responsibility of the employer or, in the new language, person conducting a business or undertaking.  The bullies and employer involved in the bullying of Brodie Panlock were prosecuted under occupational health and safety law, not the Crimes Act.

Brodie’s Law was a change to the Crimes Act causing the application of the anti-bullying law to come under the auspices of the police.  But is any police force an agent of harm prevention?  Police actions are fundamentally reactive, post-incident and post-harm.  It is argued that action at this stage has a preventive effect but that effect is secondary to punishment and containment.

Continuing confusion

The lack of action is not surprising as “Brodie’s Law”, as mentioned in The Sunday Age article, was a change to laws about stalking and not specifically workplace bullying.  The hyperbolic reporting around the introduction of “Brodie’s Law” has compounded the confusion about who to turn to when bullying occurs.  The example mentioned by Mr Panlock in the newspaper article shows that the police are just as confused.

Worksafe Victoria has indicated in the past that, although the psychological impacts of bullying are real to the victim, many interpersonal conflicts and misunderstandings have been lumped under workplace bullying. I would argue that this has inflated the prevalence of workplace bullying in the minds of the public.

The upcoming federal inquiry into workplace bullying may prove to be enlightening but could also be very disappointing for those seeking verification of the widespread cultural stain of workplace bullying. (I look forward to WorkSafe Victoria’s submission)

Bullying as a mental health issues

Workplace bullying is real and needs addressing but workplace bullying is a subset of mental health issues, and one that illustrates the modern, blurred, distinction between workplace and non-workplace. Psychosocial hazards, such as workplace bullying, stress, fatigue and absenteeism, cannot only be controlled through workplace interventions as the causes or contributory factors are not contained in the workplace.

Brodie Panlock’s suicide as a result of workplace bullying and the lack of support and understanding by her work colleagues was an indication of the complexity of workplace bullying.  It was a case that generated outrage at the participants in the bullying and outrage at the slow response from WorkSafe Victoria, but, as often occurs, the outrage was narrowly focussed and has had the effect of restricting the debate to the perceived cause of the outrage, the bullying.

The need for a coordinated prevention strategy

A greater level of sustainable change would occur from advocating for a greater recognition of mental health issues as they occur in, and affect, the workplace.  Currently there are many people advocating for change in important social areas but the lack of coordination has resulted in the community being confused and for some advocates, unwittingly, “sucking the oxygen” from other similar psychosocial campaigns.  Imagine what level of change could be achieved if all of the outrage was coordinated into a strategic campaign on reducing psychosocial harm.

This optimistic aim is unlikely to occur for years, if at all.  The aim is not helped by the Federal Government’s inquiry into workplace bullying.  The inquiry is unlikely to generate great change on the issue due to the limitations of its terms of reference.  This leaves it up to those choosing to make submissions to the inquiry to place, on the record, the need for change beyond workplace bullying in order to combat it.  Researchers into mental health issues beyond workplace bullying need to detail the failures of their interventions so that workplace bullying strategies do not succumb to the same traps.  They must also detail any successes so that, if applicable to bullying, interventions can be streamlined.

Brodie’s parents are achieving some change on the issue of workplace bullying but it seems that most of it is in keeping the issue in the public and media consciousness, their efforts remain in the awareness-raising stage.  A coordinated harm prevention strategy is required to truly affect change in workplace mental health issues.  This strategy will remain unrealised as long as government continues to compartmentalise its inquiries into narrow structures based on existing jurisdictions, funding, tenuous definitions and by treating the workplace as a special case, a life stage that is radically different from the other hours of the day.

Australia’s new Work Health and Safety laws have removed work from the workplace and therefore also released hazards from the workplace into a broader social context.  Advocates of workplace change must re-evaluate their strategies to this new definition in order to be both relevant and effective.

If the government will not adopt this strategy, we will need to make the case for this change and the most effective way, at the moment, is through the Federal Government’s Inquiry into Workplace Bullying.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

10 thoughts on “Brodie’s Law not being applied. Perhaps a broader context is needed.”

    1. Leo, the only one I have heard of occured against Woolworths in the Latrobe Valley around a week ago. A quick internet search should pull up a media report. I know the prosecution was discussed on LinkedIn very recently.

  1. Sadly it was a law that was flawed from the beginning, a knee jerk attempt to soothe the pain for her parents. The issue of witnesses would always be the problem. Nobody will speak up for fear of repercussions. In the instance of Brodie one girl was brave enough to speak out. This does not usually happen.

    Training for managers and staff to deal with confilct or bullying behaviour may make some difference. The training could include relationship training too. Often bullying when investigated really sees that relationships are at the bottom of it!

    Managers would do well to look at Restorative Justice Practices training too.

  2. It’s ironic that Victoria Police should be the principal agency investigating work place bullying that is serious enough to meet the criminal test of Brodie’s Law. One of our group ‘Dave’ recently blew the whistle on Victoria Police and it’s handling of his complaint and the subsequent attempts to have him withdraw his statement. In response Victoria Police claimed a ridiculous figure of less than 0.1% of it’s members reported bullying in the past year yet a People Matter survey allegedly reported in excess of 30% of police had experienced bullying.

  3. A lot of comments to this blog are critical of the government safety regulators for not taking sufficient action on breaches of OHS law. I sympathise with this position but feel that we sometimes leave out those who have the most control over workplaces – the employers.

    Of all the people involved in the goings-on at Cafe Vamp that led to Brodie Panlock’s suicide, I have the hardest time understanding how the owner of the cafe failed to take sufficient action over a worker’s welfare when they were aware of what was occurring in their workforce.

    Sometimes young people do silly things because they are young but an older person, running their own business, knowing that assistance and guidance is available if they are unclear of their legislative and moral duties. I struggle with that.

    There are good employers, bad employers, lazy employers and negligent employers but OHS law does not consider these personalities. There is a blanket law that applies to all employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment, there is also a “reasonable person” test. We can criticise OHS regulators for not taking action but we should not overlook the pivotal role of business managers in looking after their people.

  4. Legally any South Australian who are bullied and sexually harassed by their employer and employed under a Federal award, can then seek help either by SafeWork Victoria or the Vic Police, to have their boss prosecuted. Only question is have the Victorian government made any contingency plans for those bullied as myself crossing the boarder to kill themselves?

    It could be easyier for those concerned and their families, if we had a government prepared to make South Australian work places safe. All it would take is giving Safe Work SA or SAPOL the power to prosecute.

  5. Consultation is on the agenda, my concern though is that the people who need to be heard will not step forward simply because they do not want to confront strangers or others in their local community who are either the workplace bully or related to the bully.

    I have had discussions with various people within the safety industry about the challenges facing bullied workers.
    Their concern was not what would be found, but the cost involved in holding small meetings or one on one meetings.
    I will refrain from writing what my response to the dollar v people answer was.

  6. The sad and very tragic truth is that logging a claim for workplace bully still remains the most difficult of all claims to lodge.

    My work puts me in touch with bullied workers and bullied -by the workers compensation system- injured workers.
    The level of pain that shows in every part of the persons life is incredible, but even so they are more fearful of having a workers compensation claim for workplace or workers compensation bullying because they know it will add another layer of stress that they may not survive.

    All too often they have seen other bullied workers forced out of their job whilst the bully is promoted or shifted to another work site to continue the bullying behaviour.

    What is needed is in my opinion is the safety industry to hold meetings in various CBD-Regional-Rural-Remote areas and hear what the people have to say, then act on the information given.

    It is far too easy to enact a law such as Brodies Law, it is a lot harder to actually do the work needed to hear the people.
    But in my opinion until the people are heard little to nothing will alter.

    1. Rosemary, I think consultation will be a major part of the Federal Government’s inquiry. Public hearings have already been scheduled. I note that they are in the capital cities but the need for rural consultation is not unheard-of in these inquiries, if a case can be made. I would have thought the recent report by the NSW Mining sector into mental health would have justified a rural consultation.

      I think we have to wait to see how the committee wants to consult, what rules they apply at the hearings and how much time they can allow to people who may provide distressing information. I have described elsewhere that the Federal Workplace Relations Minisnter, Bill Shorten, has committed to listening to the people. I think we have to wait and see but I expect that the inquiry is going to want evidence and not anecdotes. This will be a challenge in an area of industrial relations, safety and human resources, where (mis?)interpretation of social interaction is behind all workplace bullying issues.

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