Employer, directors held liable for workplace assault

Case marks first time Australian court has held an organization liable for assault after teenager wrapped in cling film during hazing ritual

An Australian court has prosecuted a company and two of its directors for assault under workplace safety laws, according to a report in the Australian.

The prosecution marks the first time Australia has held an employer liable for assault. In the past, Australian employees have been held liable for assault but never the organization itself.

The charges stem from the “sadistic” initiation of a teenage employee by other workers. In December 2001 Dwayne Doyle, a 16-year-old asthma sufferer, had just started work at a family-run business in Sydney when four colleagues attacked him and wrapped him in cling wrap from neck to feet.

His shoes and bag were then filled with sawdust and he was placed on a work trolley. He was covered with sawdust, and his co-workers squirted wood glue in his shoes, over his body and into his mouth.

“Doyle, an asthmatic, coughed, choked and was unable to breathe,” said New South Wales Chief Industrial Magistrate George Miller. “What started out as a simple episode of bullying got out of control, leading to a serious physical threat to Doyle’s health and safety.”

Employees were not disciplined, and a company director knew in advance the hazing would take place.

The court fined the company just over $23,000 Cdn and two of its directors about $1,000 each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Joe Catanzariti, a senior partner and head of workplace relations at law firm Clayton Utz, told the Australian he though the decision was “terrific.”

“It sends quite a message to employers that they have a direct responsibility to provide a safe system of work and stamp out this sort of stuff,” he said.

Latest stories