New Psychosocial Hazard and Sex Discrimination Laws Making Directors Personally Liable for Workplace Bullying

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New Psychosocial Hazard and Sex Discrimination Laws Making Directors Personally Liable for Workplace Bullying

In the wake of Brodie’s tragic work-related death in 2006, Australia has been on a journey to enhance workplace safety, especially concerning bullying and its severe consequences. The legal landscape has evolved, and recent changes are reshaping the responsibilities of directors and business owners to include preventing serious psychological injuries. We break down the latest developments in Australian law and provide practical tips on fostering a psychologically safe work environment.

The Work Health and Safety new Psychosocial Hazard Code of Practice and Regulations introduces a duty to eliminate personal conflict escalation, discrimination, and poor job design that could lead to psychological injuries. By proactively addressing these issues, businesses can prevent workplace bullying before it becomes a recurring problem.

Local Safe Work regulators now have the authority to enforce the elimination of psychosocial risks and prosecute directors for breaches causing psychological harm, mirroring the approach taken for physical injuries. The chain of responsibility now extends to cover psychological injuries caused by psychosocial hazards, making directors personally liable for the well-being of their employees.

Under the Sex Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Commission now has the power to enforce a positive duty to eliminate sexual discrimination and harassment. This additional oversight complements the efforts of Safe Work regulators, ensuring organizations take steps to prevent sex discrimination and harassment as psychosocial hazards.
Also read: Directors Personal Liability Protection Under the Psychosocial Hazard Code of Practice

The Fair Work Commission continues to play a crucial role in preventing bullying, discrimination, and unfair dismissals. Orders can be issued to prevent unequal pay and sexual harassment, with potential legal and operational consequences for the organization.

Be aware, new Work Health and Safety Industrial Manslaughter offenses are on the horizon, carrying hefty penalties and fines. Directors and business owners may face personal liability, and professional indemnity insurance will not cover these fines. It’s essential to stay informed and take proactive measures to avoid such dire consequences.

To build a psychological safety culture, start with a strategic management plan, authentic leadership, and strategic human resource management. Incorporate elements like early conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and positive behavior. Empathyse offers an off-the-shelf online solution, providing education, training, policies, and employment agreements to help create a psychologically safe workplace and prevent bullying.

In the evolving landscape of Australian workplace safety, staying informed and proactive is key. By understanding the recent legal changes and implementing measures to foster a psychologically safe culture, businesses can protect their employees and themselves from the serious consequences of workplace bullying. Kevin Gilmore-Burrell, a seasoned business lawyer, is actively researching workplace bullying and developing Empathyse ® , an off-the-shelf solution tailored for organisations of all sizes.