What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 12 October 2020 – 18 October 2020

Allianz Report Shows Psychological WC Claims Increased by 80% Since 2017

A report by Allianz has found that the cost of psychological workers compensation claims has increased by 80% since 2017. The Allianz Future Thriving Workplaces report found that the behaviours employees claim most negatively influenced their mental health are:
• Ineffective or unfair management (39% of employees impacted);
• Workplace culture (33% of employees impacted);
• Bullying and harassment (24% of employees impacted); and
• Organisational structure (24% of employees impacted).

JobMaker May Disadvantage Older Employees

Employment law experts warn that the barriers to employment for older job seekers could compound with the introduction of the JobMaker scheme. Last week, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the Government’s plan to introduce a subsidised hiring scheme for young people as a part of the Federal Budget. Under the JobMaker scheme, the Federal Government will offer employers a ‘hiring credit’ if they employ younger workers on JobSeeker or youth allowance. The scheme has attracted criticism, with opponents claiming it comes at the cost of jobs for older Australians. Professor Marian Baird, of the University of Sydney, said the hiring credit provides an incentive for employers to ‘cherrypick people of a certain age’ and perpetuate bias in hiring practices.

Victoria Has 7.1% Decline in Female Employment since COVID-19

According to ABS data, since March 2020, Victoria has seen a 7.1% decline in female employment. By July, the rate of female unemployment was almost five times that of men. Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council of Australia, said that a major reason COVID-19 has disproportionality impacted women is because the pandemic affected female-dominated industries. ‘It’s also because women are more highly represented in vicarious employment and in casualised employment, so it is a significant trend – we need to be conscious of it,’ she said.

Not Hiring Someone Because of a Tattoo May be Discrimination

Kellie-Ann McDade, a partner at Baker McKenzie, has warned employers to tread carefully when it comes to hiring and firing on the basis of tattoos. Ms McDade explained there are situations where an employer is justified in raising concerns around tattoos. ‘However, employers must be careful to ensure that they’re only raising issues if they are relevant to an employee’s role and affect an employee’s ability to perform their job,’ she said. Famously, several years ago, Chontelle McGoldrick was turned down for flight attendant jobs at Qantas and Emirates for having an anchor tattooed on the inside of her right ankle. The airlines defended their policy on the grounds that certain cultures and religions find tattoos offensive. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), employers, like Qantas and Emirates, are entitled to set rules around workplace appearance. However, it’s important to ensure these rules do not amount to discrimination. ‘Certainly, if an employee’s appearance is likely to impact upon the employer’s reputation or ability to productively perform their role, there are valid reasons for raising and implementing certain grooming and appearance requirements,’ said McDade.

20% Tasmanian Public Sector Employees Experienced Bullying in Last 12 Months

The 2019-20 Tasmanian State Services report has revealed that one in five Tasmanian public sector workers have experienced bullying in the past 12 months. Additionally, 2% of Tasmanian public sector employees reported being sexually harassed within the same time frame. Tasmania’s public sector union has since called on senior public servants to ‘lead by example’ to stamp out bullying within the sector. ‘Heads of agency need to show leadership to address these high levels of bullying,’ said Tom Lynch, Community and Public Sector state secretary. ‘People who bully their colleagues need to know that their actions are unacceptable and that their head of agency will take action against such behaviour and likewise, employees who report bullying need to be confident their head of agency will protect them,’ he added.

Senior Public Servant Demoted for ‘Friendly Banter’

The 2019-20 Merit Protection Commissioner’s annual report has revealed that a senior federal public servant was demoted for inappropriate behaviour. The report, tabled in parliament this week, reveals that the bureaucrat made jokes of a sexual nature and suggested to a colleague they get a hotel room at lunchtime. During a review of the incidents, the bureaucrat insisted his behaviour was ‘friendly banter.’ However, the Merit Protection Commissioner said the employee should have been in ‘no doubt about the expected standards of behaviour.’

SA Parliamentarians Subject to Sexual Harassment Laws Like Other Employees

The South Australian Government has passed amendments to the state’s Equal Opportunity Act that ensure parliamentarians and judicial officers are subject to sexual harassment laws. Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the amendments bring South Australia’s sexual harassment laws in line with the rest of Australia. ‘The public expect parliamentarians to held to the same legal standard as everyone else and this legislation rectifies a significant flaw in the existing legal framework,’ Attorney-General Chapman said. ‘These changes subject parliamentarians to a far higher standard when it comes to this type of inappropriate behaviour and ensure there are clear mechanisms in place to allow for allegations to be investigated thoroughly and promptly,’ she added.

The amendments come as Connie Bonaros lodged a motion in the South Australian Upper House calling for the Equal Opportunity Commission to launch a ‘comprehensive’ investigation into the state’s judiciary. The investigation, Bonaros hopes, will examine the prevalence of all forms of harassment within the profession. The call for the investigation is prompted by findings of misconduct at Australia’s apex court and reports of ‘concerning’ levels of bullying and harassment in the legal profession.