A builder in Victoria who repeatedly bullied his teenage apprentice over a two-year period has been convicted and fined $12,500 in the Geelong Magistrates’ Court.
Wayne Allan Dennert, of Bell Post Hill, Victoria pleaded guilty to one rolled-up charge under the 2004 OHS Act of failing to provide a safe system of work and the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to employees in relation to workplace bullying. He was also ordered to pay costs of $757.71.
The court heard that Dennert ran a small carpentry business called Quality Carpentry and Building Maintenance, which employed two apprentice carpenters and two subcontractors.
The victim began working for Dennert in 2013 as a 16-year- old. Until he left in April, 2015, he suffered incidents of verbal, physical and psychological bullying and harassment.
The court heard that during that period Dennert not only encouraged employees to participate in bullying behaviour against the teenager, but actively participated.
Some of the physical incidents included:
A live mouse being put down the back of his shirt by an employee.
Being drenched with water by an employee.
Being spat on by an employee.
Having ‘Liquid Nails’ squirted in his hair by an employee.
Dennert taking his mobile phone and posting an inappropriate sexual comment on his female friend’s profile page.
Dennert taking his mobile phone and making him believe Dennert had posted a comment on another female friend’s profile.
Dennert ripping his work shorts.
Dennert holding a rag doused in methylated spirits over his mouth.
Dennert holding hot drill saw bits and baton screws to his bare skin.
Dennert smearing plaster across his face and into his eye and ear.
Dennert slapping him on his leg with a piece of timber.
Dennert scraping sandpaper across his face.
Dennert grabbing him from behind and pinning his arms while another employee painted a strip of paint across his face.
The court also heard Dennert regularly called him derogatory names and questioned him about his sex life.
The teenager told the court that occasionally he would participate in the exchanges and retaliations, particularly when encouraged by Dennert, because if he complained or appeared upset it would give Dennert more reason to harass him.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, the apprentice said that he continues to suffer from anxiety, depression, nightmares and insomnia caused by the bullying.
But it was the emotional trauma that was the hardest to bear.
“I would rather be burnt, bruised, assaulted, drenched in glue, water, paint, weeks’ old coffee and spat on all over again than to relive a week of the psychological torment I endured,” he told the court.
WorkSafe’s Executive Director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said Dennert’s behaviour had been appalling.
“Not only did he use his position of power to encourage a bullying culture among his workers, he actively participated,” Ms Williams said.
“No employee should have to suffer such cruel, vicious and repeated behaviour at work, particularly a young man just starting his working life.
“Because of their inexperience, young workers are particularly vulnerable to psychological and physical risks in the workplace, which is why supervisors and employers must take a real interest in their health and safety.”
Ms Williams said that as an employer, as well as a manager and supervisor, Dennert had a legal obligation to proactively recognise and stop workplace bullying.
“Today’s conviction will be a permanent reminder to him, and the community in which he works, that he failed completely.”