Sign company and director fined $40,000 for workplace bullying

A company director and his Oakleigh South signage firm in Victoria have been convicted and fined a combined $40,000 over the long-term bullying of a subcontractor.Printco (Aust) and its director Neil Pearson were sentenced in the Moorabbin Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to a single charge each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The company was convicted and fined $20,000 for failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work, while Pearson was convicted and fined $20,000 for failing to take reasonable care as an officer of the company. Pearson and Printco were also ordered to pay combined costs of $9309.

The court heard the sub-contractor suffered verbal abuse, intimidation and threats by Pearson over four years.

The bullying culminated in a phone call in August 2021, recorded by the subcontractor, during which Pearson yelled, swore and abused them after they questioned the legality of working during a COVID-19 lockdown.

The subcontractor described feeling anxious and worn down by the abuse and developed a mental injury that left them unable to work.

WorkSafe Victoria inspectors visited the workplace and found that the subcontractor was one of a number of workers who had been subject to Pearson’s inappropriate behaviour.

While the company had policies and procedures in place to address workplace bullying, they were found to be inadequate as they did not provide information about how to report inappropriate workplace behaviour, did not provide definitions or examples of bullying, and workers had not been provided any training.

It was reasonably practicable for Printco and Pearson to have provided and maintained a safe system of work for identifying, reporting, investigating and stopping inappropriate workplace behaviour, including workplace bullying.

“WorkSafe will simply not tolerate this sort of abhorrent behaviour in any Victorian workplace, particularly when it is perpetrated by those in positions of power,” said WorkSafe Victoria executive director of health and safety, Narelle Beer.

“I hope this case can prompt other employers to reassess their own practices and ensure they themselves are setting clear standards for appropriate workplace behaviours.”