What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 10 November – 16 December 2018

ACTU Survey Shows 64% Women Sexually Harassed at Work
A survey by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has shown 64% of women have been sexually harassed while at work. However, the majority went unreported. Of the 9600 respondents, 35% of men said they had been harassed at work. Responses noted that sexual harassment mostly took the form of offensive behaviour or unwanted attention. In response to the survey, ACTU President Michele O’Neil said, “Everyone should go to work free from the fear of harassment and unwanted sexual attention”.

Report Suppressed, Yet Staff Say Workplace is Toxic
Staff at the Victorian Country Authority have spoken out about its toxic culture in defiance of it suppressing a report on its workplace culture. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission initially produced the reports at the request of the government when concerns were circulated of workplace bullying. However, in October 2018, the United Firefighters’ Union blocked the report’s release, with the Court of Appeal holding that the government could not have requested it and that it was therefore unlawful. In spite of this, one staff member said her manager bullied her for 20 years and that the court’s decision “meant the bullies won”. Another female staff member was told that “women don’t belong”, and was the victim of comments intended to “degrade or diminish her” because of her sex.

Jewish Residents in Canberra Express Rise in Anti-Semitic Behaviour
Jewish residents of Canberra have spoken of their fears of a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks. Among them, a federal public servant detailed his experiences of being the victim of racial vilification. Wanting to remain anonymous, he said a colleague had twice put bacon in his office mug in an attempt to intimidate him. The incidents prompted him to complain to management. He said, “Because I’m Jewish I’m treated differently… I worry for my children’s safety”. A spokesperson for the ACT Police said their officers were taking these allegations seriously.

Free Media Training for Females Offered by Hotwire
The Australian branch of global communications company Hotwire will be providing free media training for women to support the industry’s diversity. In the technology industry, there continues to be a large disparity in gender representation. Earlier in the year, Hotwire Australia hosted an “F in Fintech” event to discuss unconscious bias. Mylan Vu, the managing director of Hotwire Australia, said that, “By providing free media training for female spokespeople, we can provide them with an increased volume of opportunities to have their voices heard”. Hotwire Australia anticipates offering four media sessions to three female spokespeople in 2019.

Employee alleges Discrimination Based on Being Gay
A former employee of major car retailer, AP Eagers, claims to have been fired for being gay. The 19-year-old, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he was dismissed only days after disclosing to his manager that he took medicine to prevent contracting HIV. To bolster his claim, he said his boss had formerly told him not to “sleep with” one of their male clients, that a colleague told him his voice was “too flamboyant” to be used around clients, and that another colleague had told him not to “do it [be gay] near me”. The equal opportunity commissioner referred the young man’s claim of sexual orientation- and age-based discrimination to the employment tribunal, where it is currently being considered. As part of his worker’s compensation claim, a psychiatrist diagnosed him with “adjustment disorder”, and a “depressed and anxious mood”, citing employment as a “significant contributing cause”.

Worksafe Investigating Aggression in Health Care Services
WorkSafe WA is set to investigate aggression among centres that provide health care services. The investigation will continue for six months, focusing primarily on how carers, support workers and nurses manage the risk of violence in their work. The director of WorkSafe, Sally North, said that the “injury rate from [such] incidents…continues to rise”. Ms North also noted that the health care and social assistance sector is a “target industry” of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 campaign, of which WA is a participant.

High Onus Placed on Employer Regarding Awareness of Employee’s Disability
The Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal has held that employers can unlawfully discriminate on the basis of disability, even unknowingly. In Ferris v State of Victoria, Scott Ferris was dismissed from his position as a prison supervisor for aggressively swearing and not accounting for moneys properly. Mr Ferris, who suffers from type 2 diabetes, alleges that the Department of Justice and Regulation imposed unreasonable working conditions, which meant he could not take breaks to eat and regulate his insulin levels, and that they thereby discriminated against him. He alleges that his irritability was a result of this and so his dismissal was altogether discriminatory. The court held that the link between the misconduct and the disability was too tenuous and dismissed any claim of direct discrimination. However, they did find that the unreasonable hours disadvantaged Mr Ferris and upheld a claim of indirect discrimination. Judge Harbison also noted that when the employer noticed the medical section of Mr Ferris’ application was blank, they should have made follow-up questions to ascertain why.