What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 22 – 28 June 2015?

QLD FES (Fire and Emergency Services) are keeping their mouths closed, at the moment, about details of the sacking of a fire fighter due to sexual harassment and behavioural misconduct.

Until the appeal period has expired they are not commenting further but this sacking comes in the aftermath of an investigation conducted in late 2014 due to rumours that firefighters had created a facebook page ranking their female colleagues based on who would be best in bed.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick was at the Women of the World festival in Brisbane during the week and she said one way to achieve gender equality was through a more equal sharing of caring duties. She believes once men and women share the role of caring for their children the flow on effect will be seen in a decrease in the gender pay gap.

January 1st 2014 the new laws in relation to bullying were introduced by amendments to the Fair Work Act. Almost 18 months down the track it appears these laws have not provided a quick, cost-effective mechanism for individuals to apply for an order to stop workplace bullying. Instead resulting in the majority of the complaints being considered vexatious and time consuming, adversarial and destructive of the workplace relationship.

3 Toll employees have won their jobs back after “stealing” work uniforms. The men were dismissed after being captured on CCTV footage taking 2 vests, 1 jacket and a beanie from a box of uniforms they found. Believing they had not done anything wrong they wore the uniforms to work the next day. The matter was complicated when 2 of the men who did not speak good English were convinced by the Union to resign rather then be sacked. Commissioner Lewin said he was not convinced that there was any dishonest intention on the part of the applicants, nor did he consider dismissal in these circumstances reasonable. Toll was ordered to reinstate the employees.

This is another example of a badly conducted investigation in which Toll did not follow the principles of natural justice and acted on the words of the union without checking with the actual employees.

A Terry White Chemist has lost an unfair dismissal case against a former employee despite having a valid reason to dismiss her. Ms McConnell was employed by the Chemist since 2010 but when new owners came in 2014 she was dismissed for unsatisfactory performance. Despite this being a valid reason for dismissal, the FWC held it was harsh because of the process the employer took.

“I consider that the process of dismissal – by which Ms McConnell was dismissed at a performance review without prior notice and without any actual opportunity to defend herself against the claim made – to have been harsh,” Commissioner Richards said.

What saved the chemist from a hefty payout was that they came within the ambit of the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code. However, the court case could have been avoided if the owner had been trained on how to conduct a grievance using the principle of natural justice as outlined in our 2 day course.

A former Rio Tinto worker breached the mine’s safety procedures and when confronted about the incident by his supervisor, he allegedly said to his boss, ‘ah, f*ck you,’ ‘who the f*ck cares, it’s your word against mine,’ and ‘I’ll take you to f*cking court.’ The employee was primarily sacked for the safety breach and he has just lost his unfair dismissal claim in relation to this.

This case is noteworthy in that the employee denied knowledge in relation to safety practices but because he came across as inconsistent in his evidence, the employer’s version was favoured of the employees’.

This case is a great example, where because the standard of proof is lower than in a criminal court (balance of probabilities vs beyond reasonable doubt) a court can make a decision on the evidence of just 2 opposing parties based on the credibility of a witness.

If you don’t have grievance officers who know how to conduct an investigation following the principles of natural justice then EEO Specialists’ next public grievance officer course is on the 25th and 26th August 2015