What’s been happening in Australia in relation to sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying from 20-26 May 2024

Weak corporate culture linked to unethical behaviour 

A third of employees across the world have observed employee misconduct or unethical behaviour in the past year, with such practices more prevalent in organisations with weak workplace cultures.

This is according to the latest Benchmark of Ethical Culture Report from the Learning Resource Network (LRN) , which surveyed 8,500 employees at major organisations and corporations from 15 countries. It found that 33% of employees observed misconduct or unethical behaviour in the past year, with instances going up to 38% for organisations with weak workplace cultures. 

According to the report, 79% of those who saw misconduct or unethical behaviour reported them – a majority raising it with their managers (60%). Reporting of such instances were much more prevalent in organisations with “strong” workplace cultures (93%), than those with a weak one (63%). While most employees reported misconduct or unethical behaviour, 21% of them didn’t.

The top barrier to reporting was the belief that their organisation wouldn’t do anything about their concern (36%), they also feared retaliation (36%). The report also revealed that a portion of employees have a high tolerance for misconduct; 23% agreed that it’s “OK to break the rules if needed to get the job done,” while 14% admitted that they also “engaged in behaviour that violated their company’s code of conduct or standards” in the past year. 

Worst Hazards in Western Australian Workplaces  

WorkSafe has identified the worst hazards in Western Australia’s workplaces by examining work related traumatic injury fatalities and workers’ compensation claims.  

Each person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to identify work health and safety hazards and put controls in place to eliminate or minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable. These workplace hazards caused 25,000 years of lost time. Two of the 20 worst hazards by years lost, number of claims, and costs are harassment or bullying, revealing 600 years lost, 2,200 number of claims and $200 million in costs. 

Psychosocial hazards, assault and violence are common hazards in hospitals, schools, public order, safety and regulatory services. The worst hazards by gender and years lost show that female workers are more likely than male workers to be harmed by psychosocial hazards and handling other people. Workplace assault also causes female workers to lose twice as much lost time than male workers. 

 1 in 4 WA marketers experience discrimination at work 

A report by the Western Australian Marketing Association (WAMA) has revealed that while most marketers agree that diversity and inclusion should be a business priority, discrimination and exclusion in the industry remains substantial.

In conjunction with Edith Cowan University (ECU), 573 marketers were surveyed in the ‘A Way to Go’ report with 1 in 4 WA marketers experience discrimination at work and 3 in 10 agency workers feeling they are not treated with respect. The report makes seven key recommendations with a call out for a long-term authentic commitment to inclusive workplaces instead of tick box policies and initiatives. 

ECU chief investigator Melissa Fong-Emmerson said the study provides data-driven research for the industry to drive tangible improvements and take meaningful action. This report provides a critical benchmark for WA marketers to measure ongoing improvement over time.  

Allegations of psychosocial hazards at big law firm 

A spokesperson for SafeWork NSW is “making enquiries” into allegations of psychosocial hazards at Corrs, noting that the enquiries are “ongoing”.

Earlier this week, the state government in NSW unveiled a new plan to help employers better manage psychosocial risks and protect their workers from psychological harms. The SafeWork NSW Psychological Health and Safety Strategy 2024-2026 is backed by $5.6 million over the next two years, for the regulator to support employers to manage risks and comply with their duty to prevent psychological harm in NSW workplaces. This includes the delivery of mental health programs for small and medium businesses. Another initiative being backed by the new strategy is the bolstering of SafeWork NSW’s “inspectorate and conduct compliance visits in high-risk workplaces”. 

Corrs is not the only legal workplace in Australia to face enquiries from a workplace regulator across the country in recent years. Late last Year, WorkSafe Victoria secured a conviction and fine of just under $380,000 against Court Services Victoria, following numerous complaints about the workplace in the state’s Coroners Court. 

Unequal job security in diverse communities

Individuals who have migrated to Australia from other countries are less likely to be earning personal income, while jobseekers from culturally diverse backgrounds are more likely to experience discrimination during the recruitment process, according to recent research. 

Culturally diverse workplaces present many benefits to individuals and employers. The research reports a 36% difference in profitability between companies with the most diverse leadership teams compared with the least diverse ones. 

However, the discrimination often faced by these communities while seeking work can limit their job opportunities. World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is not just about celebrating differences; it’s about recognising the immense value that diversity brings to workplaces and communities through diverse perspectives and skills. 

Australia’s worsening gender equality problem 

While gender equality is progressing slowly, experts say the pandemic has put Australia well and truly behind the global eight ball when it comes to addressing financial gender equality. 

Research by Workplace Gender and Equality Agency (WGEA) and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre shows that there is a greater positive link between having women in key management positions and achieving company outperformance. 

Unlike New Zealand, which recently announced a $1 million fund to help services that support women and girls affected by Covid-19, the Australian government is yet to acknowledge we have a growing financial equity issue. Here are three key areas where women have been affected. 

  1. Women have been hardest hit in terms of the initial impact of Covid-19 industry shutdowns. 
  2. Many women are doing so much more unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning, and caring because of the pandemic than they used to, and often considerably more than their partners.
  3. The gap between men and women on the financial front is expected to widen due to job cuts, increased unpaid work, and the government’s early access to super scheme.

Judicial bullying rife in Australian courtrooms 

This month is the first anniversary of the Judicial Commission of Victoria’s conduct guideline about judicial bullying. Judicial bullying is conducted by judges and magistrates that is unreasonable in the circumstances and belittles, humiliates, insults, victimises, is aggressive or intimidating. Judicial bullying remains an issue across all states in Australia.

Surveys of Australian legal practitioners show that judicial bullying is common. For example, 59% of Victorian barristers reported they experienced judicial bullying. That same study found that women barristers experienced judicial bullying more frequently: 66% compared to 55% of male barristers. Bullying by judges, magistrates and other judicial officers is a factor in many lawyers leaving the profession. 

In 2023, lawyers across Australia shared in interviews that judicial bullying was a significant contributor to workplace stress. They remarked that it wasn’t clients or the law that might ruin their day – more often it was courtroom encounters with judges and magistrates. 

Bullying by judicial officers contributes to stress, depression, and burnout for lawyers. So far, Victoria is the only Australian jurisdiction to take formal steps to reduce judicial bullying. 

Within the legal profession, judicial bullying has long been a taboo subject. It has traditionally been viewed as a rite of passage for lawyers. Some judges have taken the view that concerns about judicial bullying reflect that lawyers have become too fragile. 

Judicial bullying not only affects lawyers but can diminish the health and wellbeing of other court staff and participants. It undermines the integrity of the justice system by giving the impression that judicial officers are biased. Bullying in the courtroom demonstrates a lack of professionalism that may negatively influence the behaviour of others in court. 

Victoria proposes defamation changes as an antidote for sexual assault and harassment

Victoria proposes changes to defamation and evidence laws to help protect family violence, sexual assault and harassment victims. 

The Attorney-General and Legal Aid Victoria say current defamation laws have a chilling effect on reporting sexual abuse or harassment, with some victim-survivors not reporting crime for fear of being subjected to potential defamation proceedings.

The Bill would make victims of sexual assault and harassment immune to defamation lawsuits. Police Minister Anthony Carbines introduced the Bill on Wednesday that would amend at least 16 different bits of legislation. 

Can reducing cognitive bias reduce discrimination? 

A new study in Personality and Social Psychology Review (Axt and To, April 22, 2024) has proposed that by reviewing and analysing ways to reduce people’s classic cognitive biases in judgment and decision-making fields, we might develop better or longer-lasting ways to reduce discrimination. The authors contended that studies on decision-making biases and studies on prejudice and discrimination need to work together more. Debiasing strategies are divided into three groups:

  1. Trying to change the person (who may be prejudiced)
  2. Providing situation-specific tactics
  3. Changing the context in which interpersonal judgments are made

There are ways to increase the general motivation or ability of people to be unbiased, including different types of education or training.

The authors also cited virtual games that simulate real-life decision-making with an avatar. It is also helpful to increase feelings of accountability where we expect to have to justify our judgments to someone else (Lerner and Tetlock, 1999).

The authors ruled out increasing awareness or education about biases due to low empirical support. But there is also a common personal resistance to such education. Even if we’re willing to listen, we tend to think the biases pertain to other people and not really ourselves (Pronin and Hazel, 2023; Stalder, 2018). A potential first step for readers interested in becoming less biased, then, is to try to be open to the real possibility of our own biases (Stalder, 2014b).

Rethinking how to combat workplace bullying 

Dr Nadia Stojanova, a Victorian barrister, recently completed a doctorate in law reform and regulatory changes to address workplace bullying. In this podcast, she talks about precursor factors to such misconduct in the workplace, the ‘patchwork’ system of laws governing this space, and what workplaces can and must do to stamp out bullying.

Stojanova says we have a number of different laws that are commonly used to deal with bullying. The problem is that many of those laws were introduced before we were talking or thinking about bullying. The issue is that when we look at why the work bullying occur, we see a workplace culture and a regulatory gap.

None of those options predicts the occurrence of workplace bullying. The laws aren´t keeping up. People are good at bulling each other. We have old laws and have issues to deal with physical hazards, not psychosocial hazards.

The culture of the workplace is very important to make the victim secure to discourage bulling. In an unsafe workplace is more likely bulling may occur. Identifying the precursor factors may help control the risks and not develop into the bulling behaviour. Business strategies must make sure they are effective doing what they were made to do.