industrial relations

Bunnings hit with bullying and intimidation claims as former manager takes unfair dismissal case to the Federal Court

Emma Koehn /

A former Bunnings department manager has lodged unfair dismissal proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court, claiming he was sacked after he lodged a complaint with the Fair Work Commission about bullying at the hardware chain.

Bruce Johnson was employed in the Belrose store in New South Wales for the past four years and lodged a complaint against the company for bullying after a number of events took place. He claims his workload increased to up to 60 hours a week, with senior management asking him to take on urgent duties at the end of his shifts which resulted in unpaid overtime.

Johnson has spoken about what he believes is a culture of intimidation at the Wesfarmers-owned store chain, including claims that workers were sacked if they were caught not smiling at customers on three occasions, and that employees were discouraged from reporting workplace injuries, according to Fairfax.

Read more: The unfair dismissal trends you need to know

He also claims he was directed to manage other workers out of their employment after they sustained workplace injuries or were deemed “too expensive”.

Johnson claims to have initially raised his concerns with the human resources department at Bunnings last year but says the issue was not resolved. His legal representatives at law firm Maurice Blackburn then wrote “a substantial complaint” to the company before a complaint was made to the Fair Work Commission, according to Maurice Blackburn associate and employment lawyer Alana Heffernan.

It is claimed that after Johnson took the issue to the Fair Work Commission, Bunnings ended his employment. Heffernan told Fairfax that Johnson’s manager had threatened to sack him and replace him with an individual known as “the terminator”

“From a business perspective I think what this shows is that companies, particularly the size of Bunnings, need systems in place for dealing with bullying and harassment,” Heffernan told SmartCompany this morning.

“When bullying does occur, it needs to be investigated and dealt with.”

Proceedings have now been filed in the Federal Circuit court claiming Johnson’s dismissal is unlawful. The former manager is seeking compensation for his economic loss and damages for the psychological impact of the situation.

“It’s about responding to legitimate safety complaints,” Heffernan says.

“Bruce has depression and anxiety and is unable to work.”

SmartCompany contacted Bunnings but the company said it is unable to make further comments beyond a statement released to media yesterday.

“We take the welfare of our team really seriously and have a zero tolerance to bullying. As this is before the court, we do not wish to comment further,” state operations manager Cheryl Williams said in the statement.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Michael

    The Elephant in the room is that bullying at all levels of modern Australian corporate culture is endemic – legal frameworks do not address the root causes and the nature of bullying is such that it is obscured by work practices which on the surface appear legitimate and above-board.