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Bad Smells - Passing wind - Not deemed to be Bullying

As you may have seen in the media, the Victorian Supreme Court have recently dismissed a $1.8m case following an 18-day trial in which an employee had claimed that his direct supervisor had bullied him through, amongst other things, having frequently and deliberately passed wind on him. It was claimed that the supervisor’s actions had resulted in the employee suffering from depression, anxiety and physical injuries.

In dismissing the case, Justice Zammit found that even if the reported flatulence did occur, it would not “necessarily amount to bullying” or constitute harassment. Justice Zammit further held that there was no evidence to support the claimant’s additional allegations that he had been yelled at or treated unfairly by his supervisor.

During the trial, the employee claimed that his supervisor had started the behaviour involving the frequent passing wind on the day that he had returned to work in a communal workspace at the employer’s head office. The behaviours reportedly continued to escalate to the point that they were occurring every day. A colleague supported the employee’s claim in confirming that the supervisor would frequently walk over to a printer, which was next to the claimant and would pass wind, but he did not share the claimants view that it was done as a deliberate attempt to humiliate him or to cause offence.

In making its findings, the Court ruled that the claimant’s issues actually stemmed from having been made redundant rather than his supervisor passing wind. Due to having been “profoundly hurt” by having lost his employment and as such, he had reacted in an extreme way by seek revenge.

Although it was determined that the supervisor had not bullied the claimant, the Justice found that there was evidence to suggest that inappropriate behaviour had occurred in the office which had included the deliberate passing of wind. However, this behaviour was attributed to being ‘typical banter or mucking around’.

While this case may seem like a somewhat humorous incident and while it may not constitute bullying, the reality is that bad smells can have the potential to create issues within the workplace.  Examples of potentially offensive workplace smells can include:

  • Cigarette smells
  • Body odor
  • Food smells
  • Fragrances

While in some cases, addressing bad smells with employees can be a relatively straightforward matter, addressing more personal issues such as body odor can be challenging and do require more sensitivity to be applied.

If you require assistance with managing such issues, or with conducting such a conversation with an employee, please contact the team at HR Advice Online.

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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