What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 13 January 2020 – 19 January 2020

Beneficial Flirting in the Workplace?

A new study conducted by researchers at Washington State University (WSU) has found that casual flirting between co-workers has beneficial effects on stress levels. The study examined the impact of workplace flirtation between co-workers and found that behaviours, such as light-hearted banter, helped relieve stress. Leah Sheppard, professor at WSU and author of the study, said that some levels of flirtation in the workplace are harmless. ‘What we found is that when flirtation is enjoyed, it can offer some benefits: it makes people feel good about themselves, which can then protect them from stressors in their lives,’ Sheppard said. Sheppard and her team at WSU analysed non-harassing behaviours across hundreds of workplaces in the US, Canada and the Philippines. The team mostly examined flirtatious behaviours, which included telling jokes, making innuendos that are sexual in nature, prolonged glances and complimenting co-workers on their physical appearance. However, the research team was careful to differentiate between casual flirting and acts of sexual harassment. Ms Sheppard, in making this distinction, said that ‘[e]ven when our study participants disliked the behaviour, it still didn’t reach the threshold of sexual harassment.’

The WSU study also considered the effectiveness of policies aimed at discouraging sexual behaviours in the workplace. Researchers examined the ‘five second stare limit’ implemented at Netflix offices and NBC’s rules on hugging between co-workers. The WSU team found that these guidelines and rules, although well-intentioned, can be misguided. This was because policies which discourage all forms of social-sexual behaviour, including those that may prove beneficial to workers, had an overall negative effect on stress levels. To help find a happy medium, Shephard advises companies to avoid placing overly restrictive policies on social-sexual behaviour. ‘Zero-tolerance rules can add awkwardness into what are pretty naturally occurring behaviours within established friendships. At the same time, we’re not encouraging managers to facilitate this behaviour,’ Sheppard said. ‘This is just something that probably organically happens. Managers also should be careful in engaging in flirtation themselves, especially with anyone at a lower level. As soon as there’s a power imbalance, you risk entering the domain of what might be perceived as sexual harassment,’ she added.

Pregnant Waitress Discriminated Against

Owners of Coco’s Restaurant in South Perth have been penalised $44,800 for cancelling and reducing a pregnant waitress’ shifts. In a hearing before the Federal Circuit Court, management conceded that some of the waitress’s shifts were reduced because of her pregnancy. The Court heard that on one occasion in July 2017 Abdel Wahid Tajeddine, the restaurant’s director, instructed a manager to send the waitress home because ‘she look[ed] disgusting.’ On another occasion, Tajeddine cancelled her shift and was quoted saying ‘she can’t move as fast as other staff.’ Last week, Judge Douglas Humphreys made declarations that the company, Jewel Bay Pty Ltd, and Tajeddine breached the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) by taking adverse action against the waitress because of her pregnancy. Judge Humphreys held that ‘the adverse action flowed from explicit and very derogatory comments made by Tajeddine.’ His Honour further observed that comments about the waitress’s appearance ‘convey an entirely unacceptable view of pregnant women in modern Australia.’ In making the declaration, his Honour reasoned that ‘the Court needs to send a clear message of general deterrence that employers who use casual employees in the manner that [the employee] was used, particularly in the hospitality industry, cannot discriminate against women based on pregnancy and the cost of doing so, will well outweigh any perceived financial benefit from doing so.’ The Court ordered Jewel Bay 2015 Pty Ltd to pay $31,500 in penalties and company director Abdel Wahid Tajeddine $6,300 for the workplace law breaches. In addition to this, the waitress received $7,000 compensation.

Culture Care Set up to Support Victims of Bullying

Technology is now being used more frequently to tackle issues of bullying and harassment in the workplace. This is true of Culture Cure, an Australian-based startup which provides support services to victims of harassment and bullying. Founded by Katherine Tuominen, Culture Cure provides employees around the world with resources such as e-books, online courses, an online community and personalized consulting. Unlike traditional workplace programs, Culture Care adopts a bottom-up approach, targeting employees who want to leave their job without damaging their reputation. While Tuominen was a victim of bullying herself, it wasn’t her own experience that led her to start Culture Cure. Rather, she was motivated to launch the platform because she saw how normalised toxic behaviours were. Determined to create a safe place for mistreated employees, Tuominen created Culture Care as a way to re-empower victims to take control of their careers.