How do you handle bullying when the victim won’t speak out?

The family of a teenager who took his own life after allegedly being bullied at work have said that they hope their son’s death will raise awareness about the tragic consequences of bullying.

Alec Meikle, who was an employee of Downer EDI in Brathurst, was just 17 when he took his own life after suffering alleged harassment and relentless bullying at his workplace.

“Whilst the coroner’s conclusion was no finding on jurisdictional grounds, the Coroner noted Alec’s treatment at Downer was a substantial contributing factor to his depression,” Meikle’s parents said in a statement. “We hope the media attention surrounding this matter, and having the evidence heard publicly, leads to a greater awareness of the possible devastating consequences of harassment.”

An inquest into the circumstances surrounding Meikle’s death in December 2013 heard allegations that he was told explicitly that he would be violently sexually assaulted if he made too many mistakes on the job.

His father gave evidence at the inquest, alleging that his son had been burnt with a welding torch, sprayed with adhesive spray and had his welding mask sprayed with flammable liquid so that it caught on fire while he was working.

Last week – 13 months after the inquest concluded – deputy state coroner Paul MacMahon said he was unable to make a ruling in the case as he did not have jurisdiction to do so.

Meikle’s family issued their statement after the coroner failed to make any decisions.

MacMahon said that this was because he was unable to certify that the teenager’s death had occurred in New South Wales, which he was required to do in order to comply with legislation.

He stated that he was satisfied that Meikle had been suffering with clinical depression, which was significantly contributed to by his employment with Downer. However, he said that there was no evidence of Alec’s thoughts when he ended his life.

The family expressed their dissatisfaction with MacMahon’s ruling, saying that they were “deeply disappointed with the finding of Mr MacMahon”.

“These things are constant reminders to employers that they need to have appropriate policies and procedures in place,” Joydeep Hor, managing principal at People + Culture Strategies, told HC. “Mega corporations will generally be able to tick all the boxes, but often when dealing with remote locations in regional Australia people don’t know these policies exist or look to comply with them.”

Hor added that employers must make sure people are trained and aware that when anti-bullying policies are breached there steps will be taken to penalise it.

“It’s important not only that bullying is openly spoken about, but that it is made it clear through training that it will not be tolerated in your organisation,” he said. “Employees need to know that if they are found to be bullying they will lose their job.”

He also told HC that Meikle’s case is potentially an example of the sad reality that in many industries there remains an unspoken code of silence.

“In certain industries, people know they can make complaints but they’re worried about being victimised as a result,” he explained.

Although he said that this is made more difficult as it is a difficult thing for a lot of employers to even be aware of, Hor had some advice for employers who suspect that a victim of bullying is not speaking out.

“Don’t get too caught up in complaints having to be formalised or go through a particular process,” he said. “If you have slightest inkling – even through gossip – that bullying is occurring in your workplace, you’re better investigating it than turning a blind eye.”