Sexual Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination

Discrimination, Harassment and Workplace Bullying

No employer, whether you employ many people or only a few, can afford to ignore the legal requirements and responsibilities which the law now imposes on all employers in respect to workplace bullying, discrimination and harassment.

Concerns over sexual harassment in the workplace have soared after the intense publicity of the David Jones sexual harassment case late last year.

Kristy Fraser-Kirk, a former David Jones publicist, sued DJ’s and its former chief executive (Mark McInnes) for sexual harassment and breach of contract, in an unprecedented claim for $37 million in punitive damages.  The case was settled before trial for a figure reported to be around $850,000.

There is no doubt that Ms. Fraser-Kirk’s action brought against David Jones has heightened sexual harassment concerns within organisations generally and encouraged scores of other victims to take on their harassers.

The Human Rights Commission has reported in February 2011 that such cases now constitute 1/3 of all complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act – up 50 per cent since 2009.

The Commission has revealed that from July to December last year sexual harassment accounted for more than 30% of all complaints.  During the 2009 financial year such cases made up only 20%.  If complaints continue at the current level, the Commission will receive more than 300 for the financial year – 100 more than last year

It has made women more aware of sexual harassment laws and their rights. 

The case had also put pressure on companies to increase the amount they were willing to pay to settle sexual harassment cases out of court. 

 What should you do?

The need for an effective harassment policy is now even greater than it was before. The risks are greater too, and it’s critical that your staff acknowledge they know your policy on bullying, discrimination and harassment, and are following it.


About Pendlebury Workplace Law

Brooke is a specialist workplace relations lawyer practising in the Sydney CBD. Brooke has developed a practice over many years that deals extensively with bullying, harassment, and discrimination issues within the workplace. Brooke also provides workplace training and is a trained workplace mediator, and conducts independent workplace investigations.
This entry was posted in Harassment at Work, News, Workplace Investigations. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Sexual Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination

    Anti-discrimination policies and complaint handling for small business

    There is increased potential in small businesses for issues of discrimination and harassment to occur due to the sometimes complicated nature of the relationship between employers and their employees. It is recommended that small businesses, particularly those nearing 20 employees, have a written policy on discrimination and harassment, particularly sexual harassment.

    Employers in small business should nominate themselves or a responsible senior employee as a discrimination or harassment complaints officer.
    Assistance with harassment issues
    Often assistance is required to deal with a complaint – seek assistance from your lawyer, or an external investigator or mediator.

    Case example: small business
    A woman made a sexual harassment complaint against a male co-worker in a small cleaning business. She told her employer about the harassment but it continued.

    Justice Wilcox made important comments indicating what a small business must do to establish that it took all reasonable steps to prevent harassment. He said:

    [i]t may be more difficult for a small employer, with few employees, to put into place a satisfactory sexual harassment regime than for a large employer with skilled human resources personnel and formal training procedures. But the Act does not distinguish between large and small employers, and the decided cases show that many sexual harassment claims concern small businesses, often with only a handful of employees. A damages award against such an employer may have devastating financial consequences; so there is every reason for such an employer to be careful to prevent claims arising.
    Justice Wilcox said that there was a “simple procedure” that would go “a long way” towards allowing a small business employer to argue that all reasonable steps had been taken to prevent sexual harassment.
    This was:
    …to prepare a brief document pointing out the nature of sexual harassment, the sanctions that attach to it and the course that ought to be followed by any employee who feels sexually harassed. …[S]uch a document could be provided to each employee on recruitment, as a matter of routine and before there was, or could be, any suggestion that the employee had done anything wrong or was the victim of inappropriate conduct.
    Gilroy v Angelov (2001) 181 ALR 57

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