23 – 29 September 2013
Community sector workers across Canberra are angry that the ACT Government is not passing on equal pay increases. Last year Fair Work Australia found community sector workers were underpaid and ordered that wages increase by between 19-41% to reduce the gender pay gap.
The US Department of Labor has ordered the Bank of America to pay black job applicants more than $US2 million in back wages and interest to settle a discrimination case. A statement from the agency said that the Charlotte-based bank applied unfair and inconsistent selection criteria leading to the rejection of qualified applicants for teller and entry level administrative positions. The decision affects 1147 applicants.
Ms Broderick has said that the greatest human rights abuse happening against women in Australia was men’s violence against women. She said that it was important that powerful men were seen to be stepping up and carrying this message to other men. It is important to engage both their heads and their hearts to make a change in this area. She also noted that the nature of discrimination has changed to ‘gender asbestos. That is the limitation, constraints and indirect discrimination against women is actually built into our culture. It is very intangible and hard to put your finger on.
International clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has lost its three-year legal battle for refusing to allow an employee to wear her religious headscarf to work. The settlement has resulted in A&F changing its ‘look policy’ to allow for religious clothing to be worn. Hani Khan, the employee in this case said she is hopeful that her struggle and victory will ensure that what happened to her doesn’t happen to anyone else. This decision may cause organisations in Australia to review their hiring procedures and look-based policies. Anti-discrimination legislation protects religious beliefs across Australia.
Ms O’Brien deputy chair of Victorian ICT for Women is one of many Australian ICT workers who have experienced gender discrimination. She said that the provision of equal access to mentoring and decision makers was an important step in addressing the gender imbalance. A new survey has revealed that one in four women who work in ICT experience gender bias and 43% of women experience some form of discrimination. Another survey also found that men on average earn 9.8% more than women in ICT, even though women entering the industry start on comparable or slightly higher salaries.
More than 80% of businesses said the high cost of childcare was the most pressing issue holding back people from a return to the workforce after a career break. But a survey of employees got a very different response. 72% said inflexible hours were the number one factor preventing them from returning to work. 96.7% of women said they were keen to return to work should their employer offer flexible hours. However, half of the employers said that flexibility was too disruptive to the working environment.
A survey has found that only 16 of Australia’s top 200 listed companies meet gender diversity standards. The organisation Women on Boards has ranked the companies on issues such as female board and senior management representation, promotion of women, paid parental leave and flexible work. They said that 31 companies show little or no compliance at all with basic gender diversity principles. The largest percentage of companies that have fewest women on their boards are headquartered in WA, and tend to be in materials and mining areas.
The Federal Court has recorded an unprecedented increase in workplace dispute cases, as employees seek higher damages payouts for alleged bullying, discrimination and unfair dismissal. Employment dispute applications in 2013 jumped by almost 30% from the previous quarter in 2012. This means the number of cases heard each quarter has almost doubled as workers become increasingly aware of their rights and far more willing to enforce them.
Energy Australia says a woman suing the company for unlawfully ending her employment is using the lawsuit to destroy its managing director’s reputation. Ms Shea is suing the company for unlawfully terminating her employment after she reported allegations of sexual harassment. Energy Australia claims that Ms Shea was not fired because she complained of a culture of sexual harassment, but as part of the company’s restructure. Energy Australia has also said that Fair Work does not protect Ms Shea because she did not make her complaint of sexual harassment in good faith.
Formal complaints over sexism should be used as a last resort for women. Although there are laws to protect female workers from sexual harassment in the workplace, the existence of these laws does not change the workplace culture. Utilising these legal protections are not straightforward and there is always a risk of future bad treatment as a result of the complaint. Vanessa James says that it is reality that these issues exist and it is important for women to know how to avoid having to present a formal grievance by setting out clear boundaries.
The divide between work and private life in the area of social media is being discussed again in a debate about an employee’s freedom of speech, after an employee made a number of critical comments on Twitter about the government and its policies. Justice Neville made it clear that there was no unfettered freedom of political speech and that public sector employees ‘venting’ on social media about government’s policies would be a breach of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct.
The staff member at radio station 2GB who is suing host Ray Hadley for bullying is allegedly suffering from an ongoing medical condition as a result of his treatment. Mr Palmer is suing Mr Hadley for damages resulting from the psychological harm he allegedly inflicted. It is believed that Mr Hadley allegedly began verbally abusing Mr Palmer. On Tuesday it was asked that the hearing be brought forward because Mr Palmer’s medical condition had regressed significantly. The matter will return to court for legal debate on this issue next month.
An incident at a local café has sparked a debate around the laws on breastfeeding. Owner of Decadent C’s asked mother Ms Lehmann to cover up while feeding her baby so as not to make other customer’s feel uncomfortable. Under Australian law it is illegal for anyone to ask a woman to stop breastfeeding or refuse them service, as it is gender discrimination. In this case the owner said she did not wish for Ms Lehmann to stop, just to cover up.
The Canberra Institute of Technology owes an apology to victims of workplace bullying, according to the Territory’s Public Service Commissioner. According to a long-awaited report on the allegations, the accusation of a toxic culture and systematic bulling have been blown out of proportion. However, 19 misconduct investigations are still under way over 8 employees. The report contains 8 recommendations for reform, with an apology to victims as the first item on the agenda. Mr Kefford says the complaints from 42 employees at CIT over a 10-year period provided clear evidence all was not right. He also found that in some cases the inept handling of complaints made matters worse. He did say that the portrayal of CIT throughout the controversy had been unduly negative.
16 – 22 September 2013
Not every employee who claims to have been hurt, embarrassed or humiliated has been bullied. The Fair Work Commission has signalled it will not automatically assume that bullying has caused an employee’s hurt, embarrassment or humiliation. Ms Harris worked with Ms Maye and made an allegation that Ms Harris bullied her by swearing and screaming at her, constantly embarrassing and humiliating her in front of others and complaining about her to get her into trouble. The employer took swift action and Ms Harris was told that she had to attend a meeting the next day about her alleged behaviour. At this time Ms Harris was fired.
The Commissioner found that Ms Harris was unfairly dismissed and he said that the two women’s working relationship had its difficulties but he wasn’t satisfied that it was bullying. He also criticised the speed at which the complaint was handled and said there should have been a more thoughtful approach. He also said that the Commission should guard against creating a workplace environment of excessive sensitivity to every misplaced word or conduct.
The recently released Women on Boards 2013 Boardroom Diversity Index clearly shows that having managed targets is the most effective way to improve gender balance. The report found that only organisations that had targets made any progress in the gender composition of boards. It also found that the number of women who support quotas is growing. Many women are reluctantly beginning to realise that without stringent activity not much will change. The former Federal Government set mandatory targets of 40% of women on its boards by 2015 and 34 top Federal government boards had almost reached this target.
Good looking and laid back employees have an easier time at work while unattractive or neurotic workers are easy targets for workplace bullies. An Australian workplace psychologist yesterday advised workers to act laid back and ‘scrub-up’ to fast track their careers. However, women who flaunt their beauty might suffer a backlash from female colleagues who find them a threat.
Increasing numbers of employees are struggling with anxiety and depression and employers are neglecting to consider the impact of their corporate restructures on their workplaces. These changes are often made to appease shareholders and have a notoriously low level of success. Stress can rise to harmful levels creating an epidemic, which costs the Australian economy millions every year. 12% of employees reported extreme levels of stress and mental stress claims are overloading the workers compensation systems.
Where does the physical line between warm greetings cross over to sexual harassment in a workplace?
Graham Sammells said that it is important to keep things gender neutral as much as possible. Many people can feel uncomfortable receiving kisses and hugs at work. Clare Maxfield said that while a kiss on the cheek may be acceptable to both parties if they know each other well it could create awkwardness if it occurs in a group setting. A kiss moves from a professional greeting to a social one. Sammells believes that workplace touching should be confined to a handshake. Kennedy also says that given the subjective nature of sexual harassment claims, being hands-offish make sense, especially if you’re in a position of authority.
More than 48% of Australian workers have been bullied by their mentor. Happening People conducted an online survey of 3000 Facebook members. Only 20% of Australian organisations are training their mentors on how to be effective.
Forms of casual racism in Australia must be challenged. The Challenging Racism Project concluded that about 20% of Australians experienced forms of race hate talk and above 11% of Australians report they have been excluded from workplaces or social activities based on their racial background. Prejudice and discrimination are barriers to fair treatment and equal opportunity and can hamper an individual’s freedom to participate in the community. In its contemporary form racism is subtler and does not need to be violent or malicious, it is often something that people dismiss or don’t notice.
An Ethiopian man in NZ claimed he was racially harassed to the point of losing his job. He has received $7000 in compensation, although not for racial discrimination. Mr Abohay was dismissed after he assaulted a co-worker. However he claimed that he had been subjected to discrimination on the basis of his race since his new production manager had started in 2010. It was found that he was unjustifiably dismissed after a co-worker confronted him and he retaliated by kicking him. Hickey found that the lack of adequate investigation had been more than minor and led to Mr Abohay being treated unfairly. However, due to Abohay not raising any issues alluding to racial discrimination at the workplace before the hearing, there was no evidence to suggest his detriment was based on his race.
The Wangaratta City Council has been sacked for rampant bullying, intimidation and wasting $1.5million in ratepayer’s money. Local Government Minister Ms Powell said the council had become a toxic environment and councillors had rejected the government’s attempts to resolve the situation over the last nine months. The government’s decision followed advice and recommendations from a number of authorities and an independent evaluation that concluded the council be dismissed.
Only one woman has been appointed as a minister in Abbott’s first Cabinet. One of the most frequent excuses drawn on to explain Australia’s overwhelmingly male parliament is the concept of merit. This means a person who demonstrates the highest aptitude for a job should be selected regardless of any other factors. It seems fair on the surface but is problematic because it presumes all people have the same opportunity to succeed. A strict application of the concept of merit would make no allowances for those in a disadvantaged position. Actions like the Labor affiliated group Emily’s List and the Liberal party initiative Foundation 51 acknowledge the social and cultural reasons why it is more difficult for many women to enter politics.
Elizabeth Broderick has described the Coalition’s one-woman Cabinet as disappointing. She said that in 2013 when woman make up more than half the population it’s disappointing that there’s only one woman in Cabinet.
The Federal Court has recorded an unprecedented increase in workplace dispute cases as employees seek higher damages payouts for alleged bullying, discrimination and unfair dismissal. Figures show that employment disputes jumped by almost 30% in the first quarter of 2013. More cases are being brought in the Federal Court because damages are unlimited and there is a better chance of success as it is up to the employer to disprove the claim.
Obstetrics trainees are harassed or sacked for taking maternity leave and their work environment is so toxic that junior female registrars swap tips about timing their pregnancies to avoid being dismissed. One woman said ‘everybody knows that you won’t get a placement if you’re pregnant or planning on getting pregnant, and because the contracts are only for one year at a time, it makes the timing extremely important.’ In one case a college trainee in a placement had her job offer withdrawn, despite a contract having been signed, because she found out she was pregnant after securing the placement. She was accused of dishonesty and concealing her pregnancy and received leave only after threatening legal action.
09 – 15 September 2013
Research has found that workplace bullying has a more negative effect on employees than sexual harassment. It is suggested that this problem is a cultural one; a workplace culture must reject bullying, as there is little that an individual employee can do. A suggested comprehensive approach would include:
• Policies against bullying – there should be clear policies against bullying and for healthy conflict resolution
• Prevention of bullying – a committee which involves all levels of employees and management and disseminate prevention activities
• Staff training – encourage staff to support each other and set limits on acceptable behaviour
• Confidential lines of communication
• Consequences – there have to be real consequences for bullies that everyone can see
• Health workplace laws
Australian men want more flexibility at all stages of their career and they perform better when they have it. Engaging Men in Flexible Working Arrangements found that a large number of men have considered leaving their current employer due to lack of flexibility. Most men also believe that asking for these arrangements is a career-limiting move. Flexibility is now a key driver for men when making employment decisions, including flexible start and finish times, working a compressed working week, telecommuting or working from home. Flexible working arrangements for men also benefit women by promoting gender equality at work and home.
CCS Disability Action found that there was clear evidence of discrimination against disabled people in access to employment in New Zealand. A survey of employers found that 78% said they believed disabled people were discriminated against in employment. Disabled people are overrepresented on benefits and in unemployment. Only 45% of disabled people were in the labour force in 2011. Mr Matthews, the CEO has said that the issue cannot be solved without government assistance.
Safe Work Australia released a revised draft model of Work Health and Safety Code of Practise for Construction Work after it was determined that the original draft Code needed to provide a greater level of guidance. The revised Code contains information on various safety requirements relating to construction work under the model Work Health and Safety Regulations. Along with this increased guidance for the housing and construction industry, further revisions were made to improve the overall clarity of the document. Public Comment on Submissions will close on 2 October 2013.
Bosses will be told to take action against workplace bullies as the NZ Government backs a crackdown. New guidelines that define bullying and warn bosses on what action they need to take to counter bullying are about to be issued. Almost one in five NZ workers have been victims of bullying and in the public sector the number is as high as one in three.
Although it has been 20 years since gays and lesbians have been able to serve openly in Australia’s military, a new report found that 1 in 10 LGBTI people still encounter harassment. In conducting interviews Lope discovered that one in three LGBTI people serving chose not to reveal their sexuality for fears it may affect their career path or result in harassment. Soldiers often conceal they are gay to avoid a hostile work environment and those that were comfortable coming out were most likely to conform to the military ideal.
Men who are bullied by their female managers’, is an area of workplace bullying that tends to receive less attention. Men in this position can be reluctant to complain because they fear that no one will believe a woman is bullying them. Injury Treatment general manager Brooke Taylor believes the situation where female bosses bully their male staff is happening more often. She said it could be culturally confronting to discuss being bullied by a woman when you are a man.
Victorian lawyers are calling for other states to enact discrimination legislation which prevents employees from being discriminated against based on their looks. Looksim has led to increasing numbers of workplace discrimination claims in Victoria. It is a very broad concept and can refer to height, weight, size or other bodily characteristics. In the past 5 years, 96 workers alleged to have been discriminated against on the grounds of appearance, a further 107 lodged claims based on the grounds of obesity, 10 for being underweight and 17 thought their hair was a factor. A study by ANU also found that ‘ugly’ people are paid less while their more attractive counterparts earn an extra $32 150.
Safe Work Australia’s draft Code of Practice on Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying is a game changer that marks the first meaningful development in work health and safety law for employers in safe industries and office workers for many years. The Bullying Code once finalised will set a national benchmark for managing workplace bullying. Safe Work Australia is an independent statutory agency responsible for improving occupational health and safety arrangements across Australia. While work health and safety laws apply to all industries Safe Work has a stronger focus on industries such as construction, manufacturing and mining. The Code defines workplace bullying and provides examples of behaviour that could potentially be considered workplace bullying.
Independent schools and sporting clubs are likely to face more bullying claims when new workplace laws come into effect next year. The Fair Work Commission will have more power to deal with bullying from workers, including volunteers, sub contractors and people undertaking work experience. Groups that are excluded from the changes include public schools, public servants and local government. Under existing laws either Safe Work or the Industrial Relations Commission deals with bullying claims. Volunteers have always been covered by health and safety legislation.
Many employers adopt a zero tolerance to behaviours in the workplace such as sexual harassment, bullying, circulation of inappropriate material via the employer’s IT system. However, this approach can sometimes backfire and a court may view the dismissal as harsh, unjust or unreasonable if the employer has simply followed their policy blindly. Instead employers must consider all the circumstances before deciding whether misconduct or inappropriate behaviour justifies dismissal.
There are now renewed claims that women with children receive preferential treatment in the workplace. Jo Wallace believes that industry penalises women without children by preventing them from obtaining part time employment or achieving job flexibility. She believes that she has missed out on a number of part time jobs because they all went to mothers. She also said that she has been forced to shoulder additional work not given to women with children and those women with children could leave at anytime.
The recent award of nearly $500 000 in compensation against the Commonwealth of Australia and three of its employees highlights the need for employers to be vigilant about having and enforcing policies against sex discrimination and sexual harassment. The Federal Magistrates’ Court awarded the compensation to Ms L, a former employee of the Department of Defence. Ms L’s workplace had a number of prominently displayed images of nudity and explicit sex acts around workstations. A fellow employee Mr S had also subjected her to unwelcome sexual advances. At a dinner party Mrs L was highly intoxicated and was later raped by Mr S at his home. After the rape Mr S continued to threaten Ms L with harm if she didn’t remain silent about the matter. Ms L’s work performance deteriorated and her superiors, including Mr H and Mr D, were found to have engaged in bullying and humiliating behaviour.
An employer is liable for the unlawful acts of employees if those acts were found to have been committed in connection with the offender’s employment. In this case, this included the sexual assault of Ms L which occurred following a social arrangement of which the employer had no prior knowledge and nor did it authorise or endorse. The Magistrate said that ‘the extension or culmination of his (Mr S) pattern of behaviour that had started and continued to develop in the workplace meant the nexus with the workplace was not broken.
Employers should be aware that the connection with a workplace doesn’t end when your employees walk out the door every night, unless you proactively stamp out unacceptable behaviour.
Employers should be aware of their obligations to keep open the opportunities for an employee to return to work after an illness or injury. Employers need to implement a return to work plan for employees who suffer an injury at work. Companies can make a big effort to accommodate a sick worker and still be found to have dismissed him. Other cases highlight the need to ensure procedural fairness is afforded to employees at all times.
Recent research shows work-related factors play a significant role in employees’ stress levels. According to Aon Hewitt’s 2013 Consumer Health Mindset report almost half of the respondents said their stress level was high or overwhelming. Employees are increasingly feeling stressed by work-related pressures and this can often be destructive to health, productivity and performance. Employers are starting to recognise the impact that high stress levels are having on their workforces and are implementing programs to help employees recognise stress. Aon Hewitt suggests that employers concentrate on three areas to improve emotional wellbeing and mental health:
• Investigate the causes of stress and potential solutions
• Encourage employees to take advantage of stress reduction resources
• Promote emotional wellbeing
A British university graduate was asked to dance to the music of popular electronic group Daft Punk when interviewing for a job at an electronics store. This raises the question of what is the best way to conduct an interview to find the best employee. However, the graduate said that he felt ‘embarrassed and uncomfortable’ after he was asked to perform. The company has since apologised to the job applicants and said the store did not follow official recruitment policy.
02 – 08 September 2013
Joydeep Hor has set out steps organisations should take to protect themselves from being one of the early ‘sacrificial lambs’ as the boundaries of the new Fair Work Amendments are tested. He has identified the following critical measures against which organisations should self-audit as a starting point, as well as medium complexity measures and more sophisticated measures. (These can be read by accessing the full article)
The 3rd of September was Equal Pay Day and serves as a reminder that it currently takes Australian women around 14 months to earn what men do in a year. Women’s full time earnings are now 17.5% less than men’s.
Energy Australia’s managing director denies he promoted a culture of sexual harassment at the company. Ms Shea has accused him on commenting on the weight and appearance of employees and joking about pornography in the workplace. Mr McIndoe has denied this and said the only time he had commented on a staff member’s appearance was to request that one woman wore less revealing clothes into the office.
New national safeguards are needed to better protect the rights of volunteers from bullying. Volunteers are protected against bullying in a workplace, which is defined as being a place where there is one or more paid worker. But there are many volunteers in areas where no one is paid. Recent examples of volunteer mistreatment in South Australia include, a volunteer who was dismissed after unknowingly failing to follow organisation procedures. The employee alleged that the stress and gossip surrounding his dismissal led to his wife having a heart attack. Another male volunteer was repeatedly bullied at a volunteer run group and later committed suicide.
The pay gap in favour of men has widened in two of Australia’s most female dominated industries. The health care and social assistance sector has the biggest gender pay gap in the country even though women outnumber men four to one. Full time men in this sector are paid 32.3% more on average than full time women. Finance, insurance and professional services also have an average pay gap in favour of men of more than 30%. The pay gap also increased in retail and the construction sectors. A report by the Australian Council of Trade Unions has said that men with a university degree and children can expect to earn $3.3 million in their working life, nearly double the amount that women can expect to earn, $1.8m.
The sexual harassment case against Mr Goodman has now reportedly been settled out of court, in what has become a common development for these types of lawsuits. After several days in court the two parties have agreed to settle. Peter Vitale says these cases tend to be settled out of court because in some cases they are able to settle for a greater amount than the damages that might have been awarded at trial. It also helped protect the business’s reputation. The cost of defending these claims is also a financial drain.
Sending porn through the work email system is not an automatic sacking offence. The Full Bench of Fair Work has said that special rules do not apply to email porn peddlers in the workplace; the same unfair dismissal laws apply as with other forms of misbehaviour. 3 Victorian postal workers were found to have been harshly dismissed after being caught using their work emails to distribute sexually explicit material. One commissioner dissented and backed Australia Post’s dismissals. The activity came to light after Australia Post installed new email software filter on its internal system. Another 40 staff had been disciplined for inappropriate online activities in 2010. Two Commissioners wrote that bosses could not automatically sack a worker for distributing porn to colleagues.
A Melbourne hotel has been praised for its quick response to an incident in which a security guard hit a patron twice and reportedly said ‘faggots weren’t welcome’ before kicking the man to the curb. The pub issued a statement that they had investigated the incident and the security guard had been sacked. They also made a statement that all of their security contractors will be provided with additional training to ensure this incident is never repeated.
A recent survey of finance workers has found men are more likely than women to receive bonuses, and on average the benefits are worth up to three times more. The survey found that the average bonus for men is almost $26 000 while for women it is $9 500. 52% of men received bonuses whilst only 44% of women did. This coincides with Equal Pay Day, which is set by calculating the number of additional days after the end of the financial year which the average woman would have to work to match the earning of the average man in the previous year.
Since the recent Fair Work decision workplaces where porn is passed around should address internal cultural issues rather than automatically sack employees for the offence. Wayne Morgan a lecturer at ANU College said that the issue of porn in the workplace was not new, but had been exacerbated by the ease of distribution provided by the Internet. He says that it is the workplace culture that will determine whether or not the distribution of pornography is acceptable.
Humour has an important role in workplace culture and research has been done on the benefits of humour and its broader role within workplace language. It was found that humour can be a subtle device for getting things done while also conveying messages about power relations. It can allow managers to convey friendliness and explain their mistakes in a self-deprecating way. It also creates a fun culture that attracts, retains and motivates staff. However, it is still important to maintain a balance between humour, productivity and political correctness.