Kevin James Andrews was charged with failing to take reasonable care to ensure his company provided its workers with a safe working environment under section 21 of the OHS Act 2004.
Today’s sentence in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court followed a three-week hearing in Mildura Magistrates’ Court. WorkSafe called 19 witnesses, including 12 former employees. Ten of the employees were women.
During the hearing, the court was told that Andrews, who owned and operated Mallee Laundry and Linen Services at Irymple, repeatedly bullied many of his employees between January 2007 and January 2009.
Employees told the court that Andrews insulted them, used foul and aggressive language towards them, and threatened them with physical harm involving dogs and sticks.
One employee told the court that Andrews often threatened to dissolve staff in acid, and told one staff member she should have been shot at birth.
The court was told that Andrews would often push laundry trolleys into the back of the legs of staff members and on one occasion threw a fan into a nearby lane after workers complained of having to operate in hot conditions without air conditioning.
One witness told the court that Andrews would often say: “If you are going to die, die quietly, or if you are going to cry, cry quietly and if you have an accident, don’t tell me about it.”
Magistrate Hugh Radford rejected Andrews’ defence that his behaviour was not criminal, and that there was collusion among the prosecution witnesses.
He found that Andrews’ conduct amounted to physical, verbal and psychological bullying which led to his victims suffering. He said some employees were still suffering four to five years later.
In sentencing at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today, Magistrate Radford said the seriousness of the offending was overwhelming.
He said Andrews took advantage of vulnerable workers who worked very hard for him and took pride in their work, but were financially trapped and had to put up with his abuse and bullying.
“Your behaviour was simply disgusting and appalling,” he said.
“It’s a clear message to other employers that this behaviour will not be tolerated by the courts. It is simply unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in modern society.”
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety, Ian Forsyth, said bullying was not acceptable in any workplace under any circumstances.
“This is a clear example of an employer breaking the law by exposing employees to persistent and repeated negative behaviour that posed a real risk to their health and safety.”
“It also sends a clear message to employers and workers that they should do the right thing and step in before things go off track at work.”
"Victoria is at the forefront of Australia's OH&S regulators in taking action against workplace bullying and is leading the country in terms of investigating these types of behaviours and where the evidence supports it, launching prosecutions.”
"We have also recently revised our guidance material covering bullying in the workplace to provide employers and employees with better insight into how it can be prevented and in the event that bullying is happening, how to respond."
“Where there’s evidence to support it, we’ll investigate and prosecute cases where an employer has failed to step in or turned a blind eye when they know something is wrong at work.”
For more information about how to prevent bullying in the workplace, visit: www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/bullying-workplace.
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