In a recent article posted by AHRI I was intrigued to read about Leggett v Hawkesbury Race Club Limited and the findings of the Federal Court of Australia.
A long-term employee (commencing in 1991) who was clearly deemed competent and dedicated as supported by evidence, was micromanaged beyond repair. In fact, the Race Club’s previous CEO Mr Fletcher who managed Mrs Leggett for most of her time with the club, stated that she did her job well, was trusted, and had a substantial degree of responsibility and autonomy as the Marketing Manager.
A new CEO was appointed, Mr Rudolph in May 2016, who was deemed responsible for bullying and harassment and causing a psychological injury to Mrs Leggett until she left her role in March 2017. The bullying began from the outset with continued questions around expenses that were previously approved without question.
Orders produced from the Federal Court state ‘Mrs Leggett claims that the Club contravened the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) by taking adverse action against her because she complained to Mr Rudolph in an email on 9 October 2016 about his ongoing behaviour and the effect that it was having on her and asked him to refer her complaint to the Club’s board of directors. Mr Rudolph’s insouciant response was to email her the next day and require her to attend his office the next day “to discuss your work performance”.’
During the first official meeting between the two, Mr Rudolph advised Mrs Leggett that she earned too much money. He went on to withhold her bonus, write her excessive emails demanding immediate responses and question her salary to another colleague. These actions were relentless. You can read the Orders here Leggett v Hawkesbury Race Club Limited (No 3)  FCA 1658 (24 December 2021) (austlii.edu.au)
What concerns me is that I’ve seen this behaviour before at varied levels and I’ve witnessed leaders who are so self-absorbed that they believe they can treat employees like this without consequences.
I’ve faced workplace situations over my 30+ year career where I’ve felt like Mrs Leggett. Where whatever you do isn’t good enough when you had previously felt competent, helpful, aligned with the organisation, yet suddenly due to someone’s ego and behaviour you find yourself anxious, depressed and unable to cope.
Most leaders try to do the right thing. Most leaders care about their employees. However narcissistic leaders cause irreparable damage that leaves damage that can last for years if not for a lifetime.
In fact, the damages awarded to Mrs Leggett are in the hundreds of thousands as Adverse Action was proven.
The Club’s decision to appoint Mr Rudolph was dire. Were references checked? Was his management experience measured? Was he the type of leader that they wanted to represent them? It seems that he landed in the role due to who he knew, not based on his character or suitability.
One of the most upsetting aspects after reading this case from a Human Resource perspective is that individuals are still treated badly in workplaces due to short-tempered, badly-behaved leaders. But reporting of these incidents are not always carried out. Many people put up with poor behaviour or are too overwhelmed to put in a complaint. Most importantly, there was no HR representation with this organisation. Nowhere for Mrs Leggett to turn and no guidance to the leader to adapt his behaviour.
My message. Firstly, think about how you are behaving as a leader. Is it appropriate? Does it meet the Code of Conduct requirements? And as an employee, don’t hesitate to document and report bullying and harassment.
Bullying at work happens when:
a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers
the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Everyone deserves a safe environment both psychologically and physically. It is illegal to not provide it to all your employees.
Never let what happened at this workplace happen at yours.
Here at CareCFO we run Workplace Bullying training. As a Manager/Leader, make sure you are following the law and make sure you keep your workers safe. I look forward to seeing you in my session Thursday 6 October, 1pm to 4pm via Webinar.