Hospitals could be fined for mismanaging bullying and harassment: Jill Hennessy

Bullying and harassment is endemic in health services, Victoria's auditor-general says. Photo: Glen Hunt

Bullying and harassment is endemic in health services, Victoria’s auditor-general says.  Photo: Glen Hunt


Cash-strapped hospitals risk losing funding and could be fined if they don’t manage bullying and harassment properly under a new state government plan to stamp out the problems.

Over the past year health workers have described a toxic culture of sexual harassment, intimidation and fear that punishes those who speak up and allows perpetrators to work unscathed.

Last month, a Victorian Auditor-General report on health services including Ambulance Victoria found none of them had adequate processes in place to ensure managers responded to bullying and harassment complaints effectively. Furthermore, 14 out of 17 health worker focus groups said there was no point reporting inappropriate behaviour because nothing would be done.

In response, Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy released a report on Wednesday that says health workers will be surveyed regularly about their workplaces to identify problems. If necessary, Ms Hennessy said an “anti-bullying flying squad” would be deployed to those with poor cultures. The Age understands these squads will be made up of human resources professionals.

The government’s plan, “Our pathway to change: eliminating bullying and harassment in healthcare”, says health service boards and leaders will be educated about the need for bullying and harassment to be prevented and remedied, with sanctions for those who do not meet expectations. It said the department could use funding as a lever to achieve “meaningful cultural change”.  

The implementation of the plan will be overseen by an advisory committee led by former Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner and current CEO of Oxfam Australia, Helen Szoke.

In a press release, Ms Hennessy said: “We are determined to ensure the insidious, unacceptable and unlawful nature of workplace bullying will become a thing of the past in our hospitals.”

“Our health care workers are entitled to go about their work free of harassment and bullying, and where a culture of respect is non-negotiable.”