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You are here: The Brodie Laws 

The ‘Brodie Laws’: Victoria criminalises serious workplace bullying

In April 2011, the Victorian Government introduced legislative amendments to the stalking laws to criminalise the full range of serious bullying cases, including serious workplace bullying. The effect of these changes is that bullies in Victoria could face up to 10 years jail.

The relevant legislative changes are contained in the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011 which was introduced to the Victorian Parliament in April 2011. According to the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the bill, the bill changes the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) to make the offence of stalking apply to situations of serious bullying.

These changes were introduced as a response to an extreme case of workplace bullying and harassment in a Melbourne café. One of the young workers, Brodie Panlock, was relentlessly verbally and physically bullied by co-workers during 2005 and 2006. Ultimately she was so overwhelmed by this treatment that she took her own life.

In February 2010, the owner of the café, the manager and 2 café workers were fined a total of$335,000 under Victorian OH&S Laws.  Magistrate Peter Lauritsen described the atmosphere at the cafe as almost "poisonous", said the bullying of Brodie Panlock was "persistent and vicious”.

The Victorian Attorney-General, Robert Clark, acknowledged during his second reading speech for this bill that Brodie Panlock’s case ‘was  a tragic reminder of the serious consequences that bullying can have on victims, their families and the community… This tragedy was compounded by the fact that none of those responsible for the bullying was charged with a serious criminal offence under the Crimes Act’. He noted that bullying conduct in the workplace is normally prosecuted and punished under OH&S legislation. However, the legislative changes meant that if the conduct and consequences of the bullying behaviour are extremely serious, there is another response, namely prosecution under the Crimes Act for the offence of stalking.

Currently under the Victorian stalking provisions, a person stalks another if he or she engages in any course of conduct with the intention of causing physical or mental harm to another or the intention of arousing apprehension or fear in the victim. In order that the Crimes Act covers serious bullying behaviour the bill amends the stalking provisions in the following four key ways:

  1. The bill expressly states that threats and abusive and offensive words or acts may form part of the course of bullying conduct.
  2. The bill broadens the description of a 'course of conduct' to include any conduct that could reasonably be expected to cause the victim to physically harm themselves (self-harm).
  3. The bill provides that the requisite intention for stalking includes the intention to cause the bullying victim to harm themselves. 
  4. The bill acknowledges that bullying is behaviour that is calculated to cause mental harm to others. The behaviour often results in a victim suffering from a sense of powerlessness and despair. In some cases, the distress caused is so severe that the victim engages in suicidal thoughts. The bill therefore expressly provides that mental harm includes psychological harm and causing a victim to have suicidal thoughts.
The bill also introduces a mechanism to prevent serious bullying through the use of intervention orders. A person who is subjected to serious bullying may apply to the Magistrates Court for these orders. If the Court is satisfied that an applicant is being seriously bullied and that it is likely to continue, the Court can issue an intervention order under the Stalking Intervention Orders Act 2008 to quickly address the ongoing conduct and prevent it from continuing. Breach of the intervention order can be charged as a separate criminal offence.

The State of Victoria is the front-runner in introducing these laws: once passed they will only apply to acts committed in Victoria. It is yet to be seen whether other States will follow Victoria’s lead. In the meantime, given the media attention surrounding the bill and the many public expressions that workplace bullying should not be tolerated, employers in all States should examine their preventative measures against workplace bullying and investigate complaints vigilantly.


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