Violence at work not rare: report

September 16, 2005

WHEN 24-year-old medical receptionist Susan Pickering was first confronted by a client who abused and threatened her, she felt defenceless and alone.

"I was really scared," she said. "The man was about six feet tall and he was really violent towards me. I felt like he could have come around behind my desk and done anything."

But with more than five similar cases to speak of in her two years at the clinic, a report shows Ms Pickering's experience is common.

The report, Safe at Work? Women's Experience of Violence in the Workplace, released yesterday by the state Office of Women's Policy, shows 61 per cent of Victorian women have experienced violence in the workplace in the past five years.

The report, which surveyed 1000 women in several industries, also found a reluctance to report violence. Only 59 per cent of women reported incidents to their employers.

But while many women were quietly bearing the costs, so were employers. The report revealed more than 11 per cent of respondents were taking sick leave to deal with the problem while another 3.5 per cent were making WorkCover claims.

This was not a surprise to Slater & Gordon partner Hayden Stephens. "We are seeing more cases but it is unclear whether this is because there is actually more violence happening at work or because victims are more aware of their rights," he said.

Mr Stephens said it paid for employers to prevent the problem rather than fight it in court because of the legal avenues open to workers.

"Violence in the workplace can lead to people seeking a range of legal remedies, including unfair dismissal claims, discrimination cases, claims under industrial law, and workers compensation," he said.

Source: The Age: