Wendouree company Skyrider Tower Hire fined $20,000 for failing to stop bullying employees

A Wendouree-based tree maintenance company has been convicted and fined $20,000 for failing to keep its employees safe from bullying behaviour.

Skyrider Tower Hire pleaded guilty at Ballarat Magistrates Court on Wednesday to one charge of failing to provide employees with a safe working environment without risks to health, and failing to provide safe work systems from November 10, 2011 to September 30, 2014.

The court was told former Skyrider employee Ian Scott first contacted WorkSafe over workplace bullying and harrassment, mainly arising from co-director Michael Barnett, in February 2013.

Mr Scott officially reported the workplace bullying on July, 30, 2014, two months after the company made him redundant.

The court was told Barnett was aggressive towards Mr Scott by shouting and swearing at him, he made sexually inappropriate comments, belittled him in front of peers, threw paperwork at him and told him, “none of the men like you”.

Barnett hung up on him during phone conversations and hindered him from doing his job as an occupational, health and safety co-ordinator.

As a result of the bullying behaviour, Mr Scott suffered a psychological injury and has not been cleared as fit to return to work. 

In his victim impact statement read in court, Mr Scott said since the bullying behaviour, he was often depressed and could not complete activities or socialise as he did previously.

WorkSafe prosecutor Patrick McQuillen said Skyrider had a workplace bullying policy, but it was inadequate and not enforced.

“Bullying behaviour by Barnett continuously occurred from at least 2009. The company was aware of the behaviour due to documented complaints made by multiple employees, including Scott, and despite taking some action to address Barnett’s behaviour, ultimately allowed the behaviour to continue,” Mr McQuillen said.

Charges against Barnett, who did not attend court for the hearing, were withdrawn on Wednesday.

Defence lawyer Robert Taylor said Skyrider, which continues to operate, had updated its workplace bullying policy.

He said the company made Mr Scott redundant on May 30, 2014, due to financial difficulties. Mr Taylor said Skyrider started trading 37 years ago and employed up to 50 staff members at is peak.

In sentencing, magistrate Belinda Wallington said she took into account the company’s guilty plea and its efforts to change its bullying policy.

She said if Skyrider did not plead guilty, it would have been fined $40,000. The company was ordered to pay $15,000 in agreed costs.