With the announcement that former Woolworths night duty manager, Alysha Wilkie, is suing her former boss Steven Clark for alleged harassment, the broader question of employer and employee liability and appropriate conduct has again been brought to the fore.
Under the Human Rights Commission Act, Mrs Wilkie is claiming that she developed post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety as a result of the alleged harassment by Mr Clark, and is now seeking an award of $1.3 million from the supermarket giant.
A recent study conducted by Safe Work Australia highlights a strong correlation between inappropriate workplace conduct such as bullying or sexual harassment, and employee mental wellbeing. Of the 2050 respondents involved in the study, approximately 45% indicated that they were or had been bullied, and of those bullied individuals almost half demonstrated significant symptoms of depression.
The study also suggested that workers who feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work are more likely to take time off work, and that this was likely to be impacted even further by the employee’s experience, role and level of formal education.
As a result of the Wilkie case, Woolworth’s policies and education strategies are under scrutiny in order to determine vicarious liability, bringing into focus the importance of measurable compliance related activities and initiatives. Additionally, while a guilty finding is unlikely to result in a settlement figure as high as $1.3 million, the case highlights some of the other often neglected costs of inappropriate workplace behaviour, including absenteeism, attrition, unnecessary recruitment and training, and reputational damage.