What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 19 – 25 November 2018

MP Files Complaint Against Police for Racist Posts
A Greens MP has filed a complaint against the NSW Police for racist posts. Jenny Leong is claiming that the police breached s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for “offensive and unlawful” comments made to Facebook in 2016. In response to a bill Ms Leong introduced seeking to repeal the police sniffer dog program, a police officer commented: “It is cause I so Asian?”; “2 dolla sucky sucky lub u long time”; and “her daddy was a swamp monkey” among others. These were liked and commented on by other police officers. Although the Police Integrity Commission investigated some of the officers and suspended one, Ms Leong claims she still has not received “long-awaited answers”. She said that, “It is unacceptable that after more than 18 months, NSW Police have offered so little by way of a substantive explanation of steps taken in response to this or indeed a public apology”. Ms Leong is seeking compensation, an apology, a public declaration of “unlawful and offensive behaviour” and cultural and racial awareness training for police.

Unfair Dismissal Action by Former HR Manager at Murdoch University
The former head of human resources at Murdoch University is bringing an unfair dismissal suit against the university on the basis of bullying. Michelle Narustrang alleges that she was dismissed after raising complaints relating to the university, the vice-chancellor, chief operating officer, deputy vice-chancellor and former provost. She argues that the chief operating officer, Darren McKee, engaged in “aggressive and bullying behaviour” and that Vice-Chancellor Eeva Leinonen pressured her into hiring candidates she preferred, in the process contravening recruitment policy. Murdoch University claims that it dismissed Ms Narustrang for breach of confidentiality, breach of her employment contract and for illegally recording a conversation. However, she counters that these could not have been genuine reasons for dismissal as the university had already known about them and never before raised as an issue.

Former Radio Announcer Alleges Bullying
A former presenter with KIIS FM claims that he was bullied while working at the radio station. John Caldwell, who formerly co-hosted Celeb HQ, says that the bullying was so bad he thought about committing suicide. He is taking legal action against the station operator – ARN – for “bullying, permitting a homophobic culture, discrimination due to him being gay and for his sacking”. ARN alleges that he was dismissed after a member of staff complained about an incident at the Australian Commercial Radio Awards. However, Mr Caldwell denies having been told details of the complaint, interviewed or even “asked for his side of the story”.

Further Allegations Against Craig McLachlan
Several women have emerged with more complaints about Craig McLachlan inappropriately touching them on set. Three women’s complaints have been added to proposed amended defence documents with the NSW Supreme Court. The complaints, which are mostly of verbal harassment but also include an unwanted kiss and inappropriate touching, relate to the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons of ABC’s Doctor Blake Mysteries. However, Mr McLachlan’s barrister Matthew Richardson is seeking to have these struck out for being too general, from too long ago and for being unrelated to the original matters at the centre of the case.

Islamic and Christian Schools Argue Against Removing Exemptions from Anti- Discrimination Laws
The Islamic Schools Association of Australia has argued against proposals to remove religious schools’ exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. Legislation is set to be introduced by the end of the year to remove religious schools’ right to remove LGBTI students. However, Labor has additionally proposed to remove their right to dismiss teachers on the same grounds. Before the Senate inquiry, the Association claimed no Islamic school would accept teaching that same-sex marriage was equivalent to that between a man and a woman because it contravened Islamic beliefs. It said that preventing religious schools from dismissing teachers on the basis of their sexuality would render them vulnerable to unfair dismissal claims. The exemptions were necessary to be able to “hold staff to that level of accountability, to adhere to the school’s values and ethos”. Other representative groups, such as Christian Schools Australia, also said that it was necessary for teachers to uphold the school’s values “completely and authentically”, which includes their private lives.

AHRC Requests Lifting of Confidentiality Agreements for Inquiry Purposes
As part of its national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, the Human Rights Commission would like employers to consider temporarily lifting confidentiality agreements. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins says that non-disclosure agreements entered into during dispute settlements were silencing victims and frustrating the process. Non-disclosure agreements are generally normal practice. However, they prevent victims speaking out if they have already reached a settlement on a sexual harassment complaint. Ms Jenkins denied advocating for their complete removal. She said, “We’re not trying to name and shame anyone, we are just trying to learn about one part of our landscape and how we deal with sexual harassment”.

Deputy President of Fair Work Commission Recommends Informal Resolution of Bullying Complaints
Speaking at Thomson Reuters Australia’s Mental Health and Employment Law Conference earlier this month, Jonathan Hamberger, deputy president of the Fair Work Commission, spoke about the psychological and financial cost of bullying. In acknowledging the significant impact of bullying on employees he also stated that going down a formal pathway rarely provided a good outcome. Mr Hamberger stated, “I would try to avoid an investigation if you possibly can. Investigations often do more harm than good.” He suggested attempting to resolve an issue informally first with parties recognising their contribution to the situation and looking at options such as training.

I was so encouraged to hear this from someone so senior as after 8 years of conducting investigations and having seen the fallout of this approach I encourage people to focus on detecting and managing workplace issues at the earliest possible opportunity. Practical training for managers on how to do this as well as education of all employees in relation to their responsibilities and rights are crucial.

EEO Specialists is now taking bookings in Western Australia for 2019. If you wish to know more about our innovative, engaging workshops then contact Franca on (08) 6102 4411.