The Australian Human Rights Commission will undertake a national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment. The sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, will head the year-long investigation, continuing the momentum generated by the world-wide #MeToo movement. As part of the inquiry, Ms Jenkins will consider factors that drive sexual harassment at work, as well as the effectiveness of policies currently in place, before producing her recommendations. All Australians will be able to lodge submissions independently in addition to public consultations, which will be held in major centres nation-wide. Ms Jenkins stated that the “ultimate aim is we will have much better guidance on how to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the current climate”.
PwC has confirmed that reports making allegations of their toxic company culture were sent anonymously to the firm’s senior partners in late 2017. Nearly 24 partners, including the CEO Luke Sayers, received letters in which the author discussed the firm’s tolerance of sexual harassment, bullying and extra-marital affairs. The letter also described the firm as a “boy’s club” culture and claimed that female staff considered the current complaints procedure to be ineffective. Following their receipt of letters, PwC’s managing partner for People, Partnership & Culture, Helen Fazzino, sent a message to all staff members warning that such behaviour (as outlined in the letter) would “not be tolerated regardless of role”. A spokesperson for PwC has said that the, “concerns raised [in the letter] do not reflect [PwC]’s culture and values”.
The Fair Work Commission has rejected an application for the unfair dismissal of a building surveyor fired for sexual harassment in the workplace. Colin Reguero-Puente, who had worked for the City of Rockingham for 28 years before being dismissed in December 2017, was investigated for inappropriate conduct. Numerous female colleagues made allegations that he had sent them sexually explicit emails and texts and made similarly inappropriate comments. Some claimed he had said such things as, “You look hot”; “I’ll let you go up the stairs first so I can watch your arse”; and had asked whether one colleague was “loud in the bedroom”. In his defence, Mr Reguero-Puente claimed that his messages “were welcomed and reciprocated”, and that the “women should have told him to stop”. Indeed, several women did admit to participating in the exchange of materials but “felt they had little choice given [his] seniority and his behaviour in the workplace”. The Fair Work Commission’s Deputy President Binet rejected the idea that his dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. She said that, “In this day and age young women should not have to tell their older superior that they do not want to be sent salacious texts during or after working hours, nor have comments of a sexual nature made about them or be directed toward them in their workplace”.
Well done to the City of Rockingham for holding an employee to account in relation to his sexually inappropriate behaviour to women. Sexual harassment is unlawful when it is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in which a reasonable person would anticipate the possibility that someone could be offended, humiliated or intimidated by the behaviour. As this case has highlighted it is not necessary for a person to explicitly state that the behaviour is unwelcome in order for it to be unlawful, especially where the person is more senior. EEO Specialists has a play that it performs at workplaces, called “Larrikin or Larry Can’t?” which specifically looks at workplace sexual harassment. For more information contact Franca on (08) 6102 4411.