What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 19 – 25 July

Companies Must Have a Duty to Eliminate Sexual Harassment: Kate Jenkins

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, has called on the government to impose a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. The interim report on the inquiry into Parliament House culture urged the government to implement key recommendations from the Respect@Work Report. Among the recommendations was a suggestion of amending the Sex Discrimination Act to impose a positive duty on employers to take steps to eliminate sexual harassment. The federal government noted the recommendation in April but argued existing workplace health and safety laws already contain a similar requirement and the proposal could create confusion and uncertainty. Ms Jenkins said that “including a positive duty in the Sex Discrimination Act is central to ensuring the new sexual harassment system is effective. It is shocking to realise that the only law that currently explicitly prohibits sexual harassment, the Sex Discrimination Act, contains no obligation for employers to prevent sexual harassment.”

$100 000 Compensation for Sexually Suggestive Poster

A workplace consultant has been found jointly liable for sexual harassment involving the display of a sexually suggestive poster in a Sydney workplace and ordered to pay $100 000 in compensation. Vitality Works Australia Pty Ltd and Sydney Water Corporation were found to have contravened s 22B of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) after the display of a photo showing a Sydney Water employee, Ms Yelda, with the caption “Feel great – lubricate!” The poster was displayed as part of a work health and safety campaign conducted by Vitality Works on behalf of Sydney Water. Vitality Works were responsible for the design, publication, display and distribution of the poster. The Court of Appeal made several findings about the operation of ss 22A and 22B of the Act, emphasising that whether conduct is “unwelcome” is a subjective question determined by reference to the complainant’s state of mind. However, the question of whether the conduct is of a sexual nature is an objective inquiry. The intention of the alleged perpetrator is not relevant. Additionally, the court emphasised that sexual harassment includes sexually suggestive jokes and comments with double-meaning. The concept is not to be read down or limited, and “horseplay” is not excluded. The court rejected the argument that conduct cannot amount to sexual harassment unless it is sexually explicit, finding that this argument “overlooks the infinite subtlety of human interaction and the historical forces that have shaped the subordinate place of women in the workplace for centuries.” The court found that Vitality Works was a workplace participant under s 22B and the conduct for which they were responsible was plainly unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

New Study Exposes Discrimination Against Muslim Australians in the Workplace

A new report by the Australian Human Rights Commission has revealed the extent of discrimination against Australian Muslims. Of the 80% of Muslims who said they had experienced prejudice or discrimination in Australia, 48% said that they were targeted in workplaces or when seeking employment. The study further found that one in four Muslims in Australia are too afraid to speak up when they or someone they know experiences discrimination. Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan said it is time for the federal government to establish a national anti-racism framework. Reports about discrimination can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Technology-Facilitated Abuse in Australia

A new survey conducted by Monash University has uncovered the extent of technology-facilitated abuse in the workplace. Eighty three percent of respondents reported working with victims who had been sent put-downs or insulting or harassing messages by digital or online means. More than 75% had experienced perpetrators maintaining unwanted contact with victims via digital or online means. Furthermore nearly 40% of workers were aware of perpetrators posting offensive or unwanted messages, images or personal information on the internet about victims, with more than a third reporting the use of anonymous accounts to send threats or abusive or harassing messages to victims. Many victims don’t report these instances to police due to the threat of violence or the release of intimate images or information, highlighting a need for reform. A key finding was that constant monitoring and abuse through technology created a sense of omnipresence for the victims, resulting in impact to wellbeing.