Three years after he was dismissed from his job at Barkers Fresh Produce in Melbourne, Timothy Bye still has nightmares about the months of homophobic bullying he was subjected to by a senior manager. These days he rarely leaves his house, has panic attacks in crowded places, is on medication to deal with depression and has been hospitalised for suicidal attempts.

Bye, who was certified by a medical practitioner as incapacitated for work ever since his dismissal, has now sued his former employer seeking compensation for the post-traumatic stress disorder that he continues to suffer and  which has come in the way of him finding a job.

Bye filed the complaint in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria through his legal team at Lennon Lawyers. In their response to the complaint, IDP Lawyers, who is representing the employer, claimed that Bye was barred from initiating fresh proceedings as they had settled and resolved his first claim in 2017.

The 2017 settlement agreement said that the insurer would pay Bye 10 weekly payments and a reasonable amount towards medical and other expenses. Since no new injury or incident had occurred, they claimed Bye was not entitled to fresh payments.

In his complaint Bye said that his medical and other expenses have continued since January 1, 2018, and the earlier settlement did not resolve all the claims for the succeeding period. His condition as a result of the pre-existing injury resulting from his employment has aggravated.

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“I have anxiety attacks weekly and my life is a shell of what it was before working there. I’m no longer a social person. I only leave the house to get food or a coffee now and then. I am a hermit. Everyday I’m scared that someone else is going to have a problem with me because I’m gay. Everyday I have to take medications to bring my depression to a level where I don’t want to kill myself,” Bye told Star Observer.

Bye had started working for Bakers Fresh Produce at their Epping premises as an accounts receivable officer in April 2016. The problems started when a senior manager joined the organisation in September that year and started greeting him and his female co-workers with “good morning/ afternoon ladies”.

Later he overheard the manager telling another employee: “P*# pushers are fucking disgusting”, “f#&&*#s … do not deserve to live”, “I go on anti-gay rallies” and ” should not have to work with gay people”.

Bye’s complaints to the management about the harassment did not result in any disciplinary action against the manager. The situation came to a head when according to Bye the manager swung the rear end of a forklift towards him, missing him by a few millimeters.

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Bye took annual leave for three weeks and when he returned found that his job responsibilities were given to another employee and he had been effectively demoted. On June 24, 2017, Bye was dismissed and in the termination letter the employer claimed he had spent 15 minutes continuously in social conversations on two occasions. Mobile phone usage was also cited as a reason.

The passage of time has done little to heal the wounds. “It’s always there in my mind – being called a lady and that I’m disgusting. Most days I feel dirty because of that. Then there are the days I just don’t want to leave the couch and just sit. I hate the fact they have done this to me and made me a completely different person,” said Bye.

A second claim for compensation was rejected by the Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal last year. His lawyers then lodged the complaint at the magistrate’s court in March 2020. “Seeking (amongst other things) weekly payments and other compensation under the workers’ compensation legislation by reason that he has been certified by a medical practitioner as incapacitated for work ever since his dismissal.”

Bye, wants others who are similarly facing discrimination and harassment at the workplace to know that there is support available for them. “Make sure all complaints are written or in email and to keep all copies and if possible have their managers sign its acceptance of the complaint. Make sure you explain what outcomes you want from the complaint.”

Another piece of advice that Bye has is to take care of your mental health. “Go and see your GP. A good mental health plan can help you understand stress, anger and anxiety,” said Bye, adding, “Make sure you report it to work cover if your workplace does nothing for you. If you are threatened with harm, report to the police. No one should ever be threatened with harm.”

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