The International Bar Association’s (IBA) ‘Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession’ report has revealed that incidents of bullying and sexual harassment are ‘rife’ within the Australian legal profession. The IBA report, which was the largest global survey conducted on workplace behaviours within the legal profession, found bullying within Australian legal circles ‘significantly exceeded’ global averages. These findings echoed statistics published earlier this year in Lawyers Weekly, which found that 78 per cent of female respondents and 50 per cent of male respondents experienced bullying within the legal profession. These rates stood well above the global bullying rates of 55 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. While the findings were dispiriting, the IBA report also found that Australia was ‘ahead of the international average’ and a global leader in terms of anti-bullying and sexual harassment training. 37 per cent of IBA respondents within Australia said their workplace encouraged training sessions, compared to 22 per cent globally. However, the report also found that higher rates of training correlated with higher rates of reported incidents. This is because workplaces that encourage the practice of reporting and have better internal channels will see an increase in complaints. The IBA noted that this trend reflected a ‘perception paradox’, wherein countries that actively tackled issues of sexual harassment and workplace bullying are seen to experience higher rates of perpetration. It follows that while Australia showed ‘significantly higher’ rates of bullying, this may be attributed to our sophisticated reporting procedures and our willingness to have frank and open discussions on the topic.
A report conducted by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) revealed that the Victorian Police Force (VPF) boasts an ‘entrenched culture’ of ‘everyday homophobia’. In the report, several respondents accused Senior Victorian police members of harassing and bullying LGBTQI+ co-workers, using violent and hateful language such as “homo” and “fag”. The report also alleged that the VPF engaged in anti-gay hiring practices. In a shocking report, one respondent had overheard senior VPF officials saying that ‘all gays should be gassed in the chamber like the Nazis’ and ‘all gay people should be taken out the back of the station and shot in the head’. The report also found that bystanders were generally unwilling to call out and report unsavoury behaviours for fear of reprisal. This finding was corroborated by the low level of formal complaints received by the VPF’s LGBTI reporting channel. Victorian Police have since accepted all of the recommendations set out by the VEOHRC, which included boosting workforce data, reviewing workplace complaint channels and promoting workplace harm training. Acting Assistant Commissioner, Lisa Hardeman, said ‘as an organisation, we’re not proud of things that happened historically to our members but we’re getting better. We will continue further expanding its LGBTI awareness and ally training, as well as encouraging senior officers of the organisation to lead by example’.
Rugby Australia (RA) has terminated Israel Folau’s $4 million employment contract in response to comments about religious homosexuality comments posted to the star’s social media account. During Folau’s code of conduct hearing, an independent panel of three employment law experts came to the unanimous verdict that RA could lawfully terminate Folau’s contract. Following the outcome, Folau has signalled his intention to contest the decision and commence legal action against RA.
A senior audit partner at KPMG has been asked to step down in the midst of sexual harassment allegations. This incident comes shortly after KPMG conducted an internal investigation into another senior partner, who was the subject of anonymous workplace bullying accusations. The allegations against both partners have been problematic for KPMG’s image, as the firm often presents itself as having an attractive and progressive workplace culture. Deborah Yates, National Head of People, Performance and Culture said that ‘KPMG is committed to providing a safe and inclusive workplace for our people. In every workplace, employee grievances and allegations of poor behaviour emerge from time to time’. The identity of the two partners has remained confidential for legal reasons.