Court body fined almost $380,000 for deadly work culture
Court Services Victoria (CSV) has been convicted and fined $379,157 over a toxic workplace culture at the Coroners Court of Victoria that contributed to the suicide of one worker and numerous others taking stress leave.
Published:19 October 2023
The independent statutory body, which administers Victoria's court system, was sentenced in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court today after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace.
It was also ordered to pay $13,863 in costs.
The court heard that from at least December 2015 to September 2018, workers at the Coroners Court were at risk from exposure to traumatic materials, role conflict, high workloads and work demands, poor workplace relationships and inappropriate workplace behaviours.
During this period, workers made numerous complaints, including allegations of bullying, favouritism and cronyism, verbal abuse, derogatory comments, intimidation, invasions of privacy and perceived threats to future progression.
A number of workers took leave after reporting feelings of anxiety, PTSD, stress, fear and humiliation.
Some workers never returned to the workplace, including the Principal In House Solicitor Jessica Wilby. The 45-year-old had been on personal leave for three months, during which she was diagnosed with a work-related major depressive disorder, when she took her own life in September 2018.
CSV admitted it failed to conduct any adequate process to identify risks, and any adequate risk assessment of the risks to psychological health of employees at the Coroners Court.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said there was a strong link between a workplace's culture and the mental wellbeing of its workers.
"Everyone in an organisation has a role to play in creating a healthy and safe environment, but the development of a positive culture and appropriate risk control measures depends on leadership from the top," Dr Beer said.
"It is an employer's legal duty to do everything they possibly can to support their workers to thrive in their roles and ensure they leave work each day no worse than how they arrived."
To prevent work-related mental injuries, employers should:
Promote a positive workplace culture that encourages trust, respectful behaviours and quality communication.
Consult with employees when identifying and assessing any risks to their psychological health and determining the appropriate control measures.
Implement policies and procedures for reporting and responding to psychosocial hazards such as workplace trauma, bullying, interpersonal conflict, violence and aggression; and reviewing and updating risk controls following any incidents.
Regularly ask employees how they are, encourage them to discuss any work-related concerns and, where required, implement suitable support and controls.
Have systems in place for workforce planning and workload management to ensure that employees have sufficient resources and a realistic workload.
Develop skills for leaders through coaching, mentoring and training to improve the support of employees.
Seek and act on feedback from employees during any organisational change process.
Inform workers about their entitlements if they become unwell or unfit for work.
Provide appropriate and confidential channels to support workplace mental health and wellbeing, such as Employee Assistance Programs.