By Emily Schindeler and Janet Ransley

Report to the Criminology Research Advisory Council

Grant: CRG 31/12-13

March 2016


Workplace violence or bullying causing psycho-social injury is an emerging and serious problem in Australia and internationally. Annual costs of such injuries have been estimated to exceed 6 billion dollars. Responses to workplace violence causing psychological harm increasingly centre on criminalisation and threats of escalated enforcement action against employers who fail to provide safe working environments.

However this trend takes place amongst a complex inter-meshing of workplace health and safety regulatory systems, criminal law, and other systems such as anti-discrimination and industrial laws. It also occurs in an environment where enforcement is entrusted to regulatory agencies affected by the trend to responsive or risk-based regulation, one effect of which has been a movement in some areas away from enforcement to self-regulation or even deregulation.

This project seeks to understand how regulatory agencies respond to workplace violence or bullying that causes psychological rather than physical harms. In particular it aims to establish the prevalence and outcomes of prosecutions involving workplace behaviours causing psychological injury. Where such prosecutions are not occurring, the study seeks to understand the philosophical, institutional and procedural barriers to such prosecutions. Finally the project examines policy issues including whether criminalisation is appropriate for these types of workplace harms, and whether corporate employers can be made more liable for their failures to provide safe work environments.