What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 14 – 20 November 2016

Shouting and Swearing at Staff in High Pressure Noisy Environment not Grounds for Unfair Dismissal

James Taylor made an application for an unfair dismissal remedy (Taylor v Cut Above the Rest Tree Surgery Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 7828) in relation to his dismissal from Cut Above the Rest Tree Surgery, a small business employer. The FWC considered whether the Respondent had complied with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code in relation to ‘Other Dismissals’ by warning Mr Taylor that he was at risk of being dismissed, on the basis of a valid reason, if he did not improve his performance. In this case, the FWC considered whether Mr Taylor’s behaviour, yelling and swearing at the employees that he supervised, constituted a valid reason for dismissal. Although noting that “yelling and swearing at employees is unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour [which] is not condoned,” the FWC concluded that in the circumstances of this case, Mr Taylor’s behaviour did not provide a valid reason for his dismissal. Commissioner Cribb stated “in the circumstances of this case, which included working in a high-risk/high pressure noisy environment with time pressures for the completion of jobs, I am not satisfied, on fine balance, that Mr Taylor’s behaviour, in and of itself, was so serious as to provide a valid reason for his dismissal.” The FWC was satisfied that the respondent did not comply with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code. The FWC ordered the payment of compensation, subject to a reduction of 30% due to Mr Taylor’s misconduct.

Astronomers Accuse CSIRO of not Addressing Bullying

Astronomers have accused CSIRO of failing to address a culture of bullying and sexual harassment within its astronomy department. Professor McClure-Griffiths has stated that CSIRO’s confidentiality provisions protect perpetrators of bullying or sexual harassment, indicating that these provisions prevent employees from “speaking up.” CSIRO Executive Director Dr Dave Williams has denied that the level of secrecy maintained within CSIRO is improper, stating that actions have been implemented “where the external investigator has deemed that the case has been misconduct or worse.”

Since 2008, CSIRO has conducted 16 investigations into alleged professional misconduct. A 2013 investigation carried out by former Commonwealth Ombudsman Dennis Pearce determined that there was “no major problem of workplace bullying or other unreasonable behaviour” within CSIRO.

Independent Probe for bullying Allegations in Industrial Court

Justice Department Deputy Director-General Simon Blackwood has commissioned an independent probe into Queensland Industrial Court Vice-President Dianne Linnane. It is alleged that Ms Linnane is being investigated in relation to allegations that she bullied Industrial Court Commissioner Minna Knight. Ms Linnane has denied these allegations.