What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 22 – 28 February 2016

Employee not Discriminated Against Based on Disability
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has rejected a Disability ACT staffer’s claim that she was bullied and humiliated by her boss. Sue Ringshaug was employed as an Administrative Support Officer, a role which required extensive keyboard use. She developed, and was diagnosed with occupational overuse of her right upper limb in 2011, liability for which was accepted by her employer Comcare. Accordingly Ms Ringshaug had a period off work, later returning to work part-time as a Disability Support Officer (DSO), and part-time as an Administrative Support Officer (ASO) during 2012.

In 2013 Ms Ringshaug attended a meeting where she was informed that she would no longer be able to undertake her joint role, as a DSO and ASO. Instead she was informed that she would need to return to her previous role as an ASO. Ms Ringshaug raised concerns about the nature of her work as an ASO and its impact on her RSI condition, as well as concerns about having to be on a roster with some days starting at 7am. These issues were not resolved in the meeting, instead it was alleged that her manager threw the roster at her, saying that the roster had been designed to prevent her from picking up ‘creamy shifts’. Over the following months, Ms Ringshaug began to feel stressed and anxious due to circumstances at work and apprehension of re-injury. She took an extensive period of sick leave suffering from high blood pressure issues.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal was in little doubt that Ms Ringshaug was deeply troubled by “what she saw as an unfair and discriminatory approach being taken to her health needs by her supervisors.” However the tribunal found that her conditions were either outside the definition of injury or were suffered as a result of “reasonable administrative action taken in a reasonable manner in respect of her employment”.

Employer’s Responsibility to Protect Employees from Inappropriate Actions of Clients
At least one Bunnings store in Melbourne has taken action to ban some clients (tradesmen) because of instances of sexual harassment and sexual behaviour directed to its employees. Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins said “the law requires employers to make sure that they are providing a workplace which is safe and where there is no harassment.” .

Employee Unfairly Dismissed
The Fair Work Commission has determined that a Halls Gap motel manager was subject to “exploitative” working conditions and unfairly dismissed. Maricar Virata was advised by email of her dismissal on grounds of misconduct. The instances of misconduct referred to included complaints by employees that Ms Virata had engaged in bullying conduct, and a statement that relationship issues between Ms Virata and Mr Gagate (her de facto partner who was also an employee) had an adverse impact on the workplace. The FWC found that there was no valid reason for dismissal — the evidence provided of bullying conduct was “less than convincing” and there was “simply no credible evidence” that relationship difficulties caused any disruption in the workplace. Accordingly the FWC found that in the circumstances the dismissal was harsh, unjust and unreasonable.

Not Okay to Dress up as a Black Person
Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane has called on Basketball Australia to take stronger action against racism. This call came after Opal’s player Alice Kunek posted a photo of herself on Instagram with her face painted black. Mr Soutphommasane said that “It’s always disappointing to see an episode of blackface … people should know that blackface is bent up in a history of racial mockery and humiliation, they should know that it’s unacceptable in our society today.” Ms Knek’s response was that she was dressing up as her favourite musician, rapper Kanye West for an end of season party.

I don’t know the inside history on this but on the surface it seems crazy that it is in bad taste for her to dress up as a rapper (who happens to be black) and yet the person next to her has put white paint on her face and this seems perfectly acceptable.
Have we gone too far?