Legal action has been filed against travel agency Flight Centre, which is facing claims it ignored workplace bullying against a female employee.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers filed an action under the Fair Work Act’s adverse action provisions in the Federal Court yesterday.
Employment law principal at Maurice Blackburn, Josh Bornstein, said the adverse action provisions play an important function in protecting whistleblowers from victimisation and retribution.
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“In this case, our client blew the whistle on extreme bullying behaviour at Flight Centre and, as a result, was victimised, demoted and ultimately lost his career with the company,” Bornstein said.
“The fact that a company which has won awards for being an excellent employer has tried to sweep this under the rug, ignoring obscene and belittling bullying in its own ranks and then turning on those that try to expose it, reflects an unacceptable work attitude.”
The case centres on claims that Richard Barnes, a former high-performing assistant manager of the Student Flights store in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston, became concerned by the aggressive and bullying behaviour of the store manager, Kelly Gallasch, towards another employee.
Barnes claims Gallasch made comments to several workers saying a fellow employee was “useless”, “stinks” and saying to the employee “no wonder your husband left you”.
It is also claimed that Gallasch attempted to make the employee wear a degrading “boob apron” to a work awards night because of low sales.
Despite Barnes making several complaints about Gallasch’s behaviour, Bornstein said Flight Centre failed to take action to stop her bullying and after Barnes stood up for his colleague, Gallasch targeted him.
Bornstein said the case demonstrates that bullying can occur in all workplaces at all levels and reinforces the need for National Workplace Bullying laws.
“At the moment, there is no law that directly addresses workplace bullying and makes it illegal,” he said.
Haydn Long, spokesperson for Flight Centre, told SmartCompany that Flight Centre would “vigorously” defend the case.
“Flight Centre investigated and acted against several people who were involved in this matter when the complaint was received last year,” says Long.
“The company also investigated and acted on complaints that were made against Mr Barnes.
“The company considers it acted appropriately and denies various allegations that have been made against it.”
Long says Barnes did not lose his job after he raised concerns, he resigned and did not take up several job offers within the company.
“He was also investigated in relation to anger management complaints that were raised,” says Long.
“Flight Centre takes allegations of this nature seriously and has policies and procedures in place to prevent and discipline such behaviour.
“In addition, the company has a whistleblowers’ facility that staff can use to report any alleged wrongdoing.”