An employee in Australia has been awarded a huge AUD$1.7 million compensation payment for being repeatedly harassed, mistreated, devalued and undermined by her CEO over almost a year.  The employee was diagnosed with a variety of illnesses including anxiety and depression and retired unable to return to work.

The behaviour complained about included public humiliation of the employee, refusing requests for information, isolating her from her co-workers and undermining her.

The Court found that this behaviour should have been recognised for what it was and stopped.  The employer’s failure to do so made it responsible for the CEO’s actions.  An interesting aspect of this case is that as this involved the CEO as the perpetrator, it would have involved a whistleblower or someone to let the board know of the CEO’s behaviour.  Not an easy position for a co-worker to be put in but this did not save the employer from liability for its CEO’s actions.

In New Zealand the behaviour of the CEO would be taken to be the actions of the employer as the CEO manages the staff.  If the perpetrator was another manager or colleague (not the CEO) then the employer will only be responsible if the behaviour was brought to the employer’s attention and it failed to deal properly with it.

Alan Knowsley
Employment Lawyer