What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 13 – 19 August 2018

Employee Suicide Linked to Workplace Bullying
The mother and sister of a local council staffer claim that the council’s toxic work culture was a “catalyst” in his recent suicide. David Wilson had worked as a plant operator at the Wollondilly Shire Council for 13 years before taking his life in June of this year. In hundreds of diary entries dating back to 2008, he had detailed his experiences of workplace harassment and bullying. In one, he describes receiving a “veiled threat” from his superiors after reporting issues of a “loss of working conditions” during a meeting. The entries describe examples of bullying, physical harassment, and verbal harassment over his punctuality and personal life, which caused him to feel “sick with worry”. Mr Wilson was targeted viciously, finding his phone number and “if you want a good time call David” on toilet walls. Despite changing his phone number numerous times, he would continue to receive calls at night proposing threesomes with him and his wife. According to her, Mr Wilson found this “unbearable”. United Services Union organiser, Rudy Oppitz, says that the council has had other reports of staff bullying and harassment. Furthermore, Ray Law, who formerly served as a councillor on the back of an anti-bullying ticket in 2012, says that a “complete culture change” is needed. An external workplace review is currently underway.

Employee Suing Employer for Racial Discrimination
A Maori employee of the Rainbow Beach Adventure Company is taking his employer to the Queensland Industrial Relations Court over alleged racial vilification and discrimination. New Zealand-born McDuff Tupetagi claims to have endured months of racial discrimination, including regular mocking, abuse and being called a “black fella”. Mr Tupetagi claims to have been denied a sunshade over his workstation by both his boss and manager for reasons “to the effect of ‘because you’re black’”. In a particularly egregious example, his co-workers left him an empty sunscreen bottle with, “Black Guy Repllent (sic)” and “Caution! Only use on blacks” written over it. Although the suspected perpetrator, Joel Mahon, had been told to apologise, he instead drove to Mr Tupetagi’s house to tell him, “You shouldn’t be here”. Rainbow Beach’s parent company, Website Travel, labelled this behaviour as “abhorrent and totally unacceptable”.

Employee Dismissed for Serious Misconduct
The Fair Work Commission has dismissed the application for unfair dismissal of a Muslim cleric who was suspended over sexual misconduct. The Islamic Society of Victoria dismissed Sheik Mohamad Abou-Eid in 2017, when female members accused him of “inappropriate sexual conduct”. Despite a further suspension from the Board of Imams Victoria, the Sheik retaliated by claiming the Islamic Society of misappropriating donations, accusing them of stealing millions of dollars during an A Current Affair interview, and inciting “riotous behaviour”. The Fair Work Commission labelled the Board’s sexual misconduct investigation “hurried” and “lack[ing] procedural fairness”. However, it ultimately found that his additional behaviour constituted serious misconduct, which was sufficient to “justify immediate dismissal”.

Former ABC Staffer Successful in Compensation Claim Related to Bullying
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has found in favour of a former ABC staffer in her so far six-year long fight for compensation over workplace bullying. Peta Martin had a “breakdown” in 2012 after enduring what she says was more than 18 months of bullying at the ABC’s South Australian studios in Renmark. She claims that her former manager, Bruce Mellett, was aggressive with, and swore at, her, and that he failed to protect her from co-workers’ harassment. Although she found a temporary job as a cross-media reporter under a different supervisor, she was not selected for the role permanently by a selection panel that happened to include Mr Mellett. Comcare argued it should not have to compensate her as this rejection constituted “reasonable administrative action” on the part of the ABC. Ms Martin’s case went to the High Court, before being sent back to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In the present case, the Tribunal’s Deputy President James Constance held that Comcare should not deny the compensation payout. He found that her mental condition deteriorated before the job application was denied and so did not contribute to her illness. Moreover, he rejected that the ABC acted reasonably, given that Mr Mellett neither removed himself from the judging panel, nor disclosed his working relationship with Ms Martin, and given that the ABC merely referred Ms Martin to an assistance program for her mental illness. Despite the finding, Comcare may still appeal the decision.

Worksafe ACT Says Calvary Hospital Needs to Reform its Bullying Processes
WorkSafe ACT has told Calvary Hospital to reform its staff protections against bullying, following a months-long probe. The investigation was triggered by a coronial inquiry into an emergency department nurse’s suicide and allegations of a toxic hospital culture. Although the coroner could not find that bullying was the sole cause of the death, hospital staff have spoken about a smear campaign being waged against anyone who raises concerns of workplace bullying. WorkSafe ACT recommended that bullying, harassment and psychological incidents will be treated separately, and that there be full and mandatory induction training for new employees. Chief Executive Barb Reid welcomed the suggestions and said their implementation would be the hospital’s “priority”.

Out of Control Office Banter Results in Staff Termination and Resignation
Back in May 2018 we reported on the resignation of Premier Roger Cook’s chief of staff, Erik Locke related to allegations of bullying made by another former staffer, media adviser Jane Grljusich.

Speaking openly for the first time about the scandal, Erik Locke said the exchanges were a “two-way thing that got out of hand.”

He said, “The whole thing was just so crazy because we were friends and we were equal participants in this banter, which I concede was inappropriate, but I suppose that’s part of how we dealt with the stress of the job,” Mr Locke said.
Communications included text messages between the two related to weight gain and what to do about it, including calling her ‘Kim Jong Lard’ and comments about liposuction and cosmetic surgery.

In one text, Ms Grljusich had texted that she wanted Mr Locke to come to the gay nightclub Connections and “bring your collar and leash”.

While the DPC investigated Mr Locke had remained silent and the investigation ended in May when a DPC spokesman said “the investigator found that allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination made against Mr Locke were not substantiated”. Mr Locke resigned in February 2018 due to the stress of the allegations.

The spokesman said the pair engaged in banter that “lacked courtesy and respect” and did not meet their obligations under the DPC’s code of conduct but it did not constitute bullying.
Ms Grljusich said that, “Mr Locke was my superior, in a position of power over a junior employee in the workplace, and his behaviour towards me was sexist, demeaning, humiliating, intimidating and entirely inappropriate in a modern workplace.”

This is such a sad but all too common scenario where humour mixed with friendship and stress created a range of inappropriate behaviours. The blurring of friendship and work colleagues can result in comments being made at work that if made outside of the work connection would be okay but when made within the connection of the workplace are not. It is such a fine distinction and one which many people miss.

Educating staff about the distinction between colleague first and friend second, when at work is critical. EEO specialists provide a range of engaging training in relation to EEO and bullying. For more information contact Franca on (08) 6102 4411.