It’s the question that has lingered on many of our minds since the days of our childhood. It is most definitely unpleasant. Indeed, it can even bring a tear to the eye. When someone lets one slip in the workplace, it might amount to a chuckle, but can it amount to workplace bullying?

That’s the whopper of a question the Victorian Courts had to deal with recently. The Courts had to decide whether “Mr Stinky” (the culprit) engaged in workplace bullying by “lifting his bum and farting” on a work colleague. The Court also had to determine whether the victim of the said flatulence suffered a psychiatric injury and was entitled to compensation to the tune of $1.8 million.

Mr Stinky, as we’ll refer to him, admitted to the farting but denied that it was bullying. In his view, it was just “typical banter or mucking around”.

Well, the Court agreed with Mr Stinky. In the circumstances, which included that the victim had nicknamed the culprit and jokingly carried a can of deodorant with him, the Court held that it was just a case of light-farted, sorry, light-hearted office humour.

When is farting not funny?

Some of us may disagree with the above conclusion. Perhaps especially so, those of us who grew up with brothers (need we say more?). But in a workplace scenario, what obligations does an employer have to provide a workplace free from bullying (and farting)?

The duty to provide a safe workplace

All employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees and avoid causing physical or psychological injury. In the case of bullying, if the employer is aware of
the bullying, or ought to be aware that an employee is at risk of being bullied, the employer must take steps to eliminate that risk. Failure to do so would see the employer looking at a negligence claim.

Although in this case the flatulence foible did not amount to bullying, that’s not to say that in other circumstances it may do, particularly if it was repeated behaviour directed at the same person. While this may have been a case of office humour, we know that in other cases it’s not. Any inappropriate behaviour should always be reported and dealt with by management.

If you need advice in relation to any bullying claims please contact our experienced team at Chamberlains for an obligation-free appointment.


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