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Violent & Threatening Behaviour—it’s Not Okay and it’s Not ‘Just a Joke’!

Recently, Eddie Maguire has been in the line of fire due to his comment about holding Caroline Wilson’s head under water. Unless you’ve been completely off-line or living Henry David Thoreau’s life as documented in Walden, you no doubt will have had an opinion about it, or heard about it. The opinions varied from ‘it’s just a joke’, to feminist vitriol, to calls for Eddie to give up his crown as President of Collingwood Football Club and media personality.

There is no doubt that Maguire went too far, crossed a line. Words like that should never be thought—as I believe that such thoughts hint at a character that is less than desirable—to say nothing of being spoken out loud. But it brings to mind a wider culture within society that it seems is hard to break. Violence towards women, both external to and within the workplace, is still a horrifying part of our culture; Maguire’s distasteful and thoughtless comments highlight this fact. Within the workplace, women are still exposed to violent tendencies from the males who work around them, despite the world fighting against it for the past forty years.

Many years ago when I was a rooky manager I was threatened with violence at work. The business where I worked was being reviewed, supposedly a spontaneous and unannounced review, by a powerful industry expert, a person who was well-known and highly influential in this particular city where the company operated. The review was a big deal, and both the owner of the business and the second-in-charge (2IC) were understandably nervous about the outcome. On the day of the review, we got a heads up that it was happening, which I’d discovered through the grapevine, and—as a loyal and dutiful employee—I told the 2IC that I’d heard the reviewer was on their way. The 2IC leaned over me, close, so close I could smell his breath, and whispered threateningly, but with a smile, that if stuffed this up, he would take me out the back and kick my head in.

I was shocked. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t understand where this threat had come from; I thought I’d done the right thing by alerting them. In fact, I was so stunned I actually started to wonder who would believe me if I told them. Who would believe me? The 2IC was a charming, intelligent man and well respected in his profession. Perhaps, I thought to myself, this was the way the employment world turned. I was, after all, still young and naive, and it was my first foray into middle-management. Yes, I convinced myself it was my problem to deal with alone.

Now I’m older and I’m more informed about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour within workplaces. Gendered violent behaviour is not, and should never be, the way the employment world turns. It is not acceptable behaviour in any workplace. Violence against women at work can have a significant impact on both the women in question and the organisation. It can affect the employee's work performance, cause poor physical and mental well-being, lead to time off work and can, at times, result in the woman resigning, rather than continue in a place where they feel threatened and unsafe (Office for Women, SA Government).

The Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 defines workplace bullying as repeated unreasonable behaviour by an individual towards a worker which creates a risk to health and safety. The Act also identifies intimidation, as well as physical threats of violence, as bullying under the act. The Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 was in part written to ensure that everyone has the right and ability to work in a safe workplace free from violence. The size of the workplace doesn’t matter; whether you’re working in a huge corporate structure or in a smaller organisation, such as my experience.

I now know that there are options available to me as an employee to deal with violent and/or physically intimidating behaviour. I can:

  • go to my direct manager

  • go to a different manager, but with similar authority

  • contact my Union or Industry Organisation

  • contact my state or territory Equal Opportunity Commission

  • contact Worksafe in your state or territory

  • contact the Australian Human Rights Commission

  • contact the Fair Work Commission

  • contact the Police

Sometimes, especially when I hear comments like Maguire’s, I feel sad for society and I think Thoreau had the right idea. What a good plan to retreat into the woods, to live apart from society, completely alone and exist solely on what can be foraged nearby.

But I don’t think it would work, I know it definitely wouldn’t work for me. Humans are a social people, and regardless of whether we are introverted or extroverted we still need connections—positive connections—with others. And for many of us, those connections come through the relationships and interactions we have with people in our workplaces.

Workplaces have been identified as key environments in which to undertake preventative action to reduce violence against women and to support women who are experiencing or escaping violence. Workplaces can play an effective and important role in supporting women to remain safe, stay in work and be able to access specialist support services, even when the violence is coming from within the workplace.

Enough is enough, to Eddie Maguire and anyone else who engages in behaviour that is ‘only a joke’ but in fact demeans, humiliates, threatens, bullies, harasses, discriminates and victimises other people. Everyone has the right to feel safe at work. And if you don’t feel safe, you now have a list of people outside your workplace you can call.


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