What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 24 – 30 October 2016

Law Firms Not Nice Places to Work!
The Law Council of Australia’s National Attrition and Re-engagement Study (NARS Report) has revealed that one in four female lawyers and barristers have experienced sexual harassment in Australia. Further, one in two female practitioners and more than one in three male practitioners have reported being intimidated in their current workplace. Michael Harmer, a leading sexual harassment lawyer stated that the legal industry “is still a highly male dominated industry and basically within that power imbalance, these ‘protected species’ get away with blue murder.” The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission director Catherine Dixon stated that there is “a positive duty on employers, including law firms, to actually make these changes themselves and for women and for the range of employees working for them.”

SC Accuses Law Society President of Voting Against Gender Equality
Claire O’Connor SC has accused Law Society president David Caruso and his successor, Tony Rossi, of voting “against gender equality”. In a Facebook post that has since been deleted Ms O’Connor wrote of the “future of the profession where inclusion and diversity [will] matter.” Ms O’Connor stated that “daddy, schooling, skin colour, gender preference (and) disability will not impact such appointments in generations to come […] Sexual harassment and bullying at work — yes, I’ve been the victim of serious infringements, once by someone who now sits on our District Court — will be a thing of the past […] All those prejudices and privileges which have stood on me for all of my career will not suppress the lawyers of the future.”

Mr Caruso has stated that this matter and any potential inquiry will be discussed at the November meeting of the society’s governance council. Mr Caruso noted his concern that “there does not seem to be any reasonable basis given for some of the suggestions in the post. The Law Society has sent Ms O’Connor a letter detailing methods to report sexual harassment and bullying, and noting concerns about her Facebook post.

Lindsay Powell QC has acknowledged that the substance of Ms O’Connor’s post cannot be disputed. Ms Powell commented “of course it’s been difficult for women – every profession, not just the legal profession, has at one time been a boys’ club – and of course there’s a discussion to be had […] The question is whether this was the way to do it … anyone who knows anything about implementing cultural change knows it is, of necessity, a slow and arduous process […] You can’t force cultural change, you can’t impose it, and women need men to support them in this rather than making enemies of them.”

Survey Reveals (Un)Health of Workplaces
A survey of 1000 workers conducted by Reventure has indicated that 10% have been bullied or subjected to verbal abuse. The survey found that 14% of workers suffered a mental or physical health decline resulting from their employment, 18% experienced conflict with their boss and 20% of workers experienced high levels of negativity in the workplace.

It’s a Health Hazard to Be a Female Politician
A study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union has revealed that sexist violence and harassment against female lawmakers is “real and widespread.” The results were based on data provided by 55 female parliamentarians selected from 39 countries. Eighty per cent of women reported having been subject to hostile behaviour, which resulted in psychological harm or fear. Further, 44% reported that they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their terms.

Disability Discrimination Impacting 1 in 12 People
Survey data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has demonstrated that almost one in twelve Australians with disability have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment because of their disability. The results indicated that “an employer was the source of discrimination for almost half of those aged 15 to 64 years with disability who were unemployed (46.9%) or employed full-time (46.2%) and just over one-third (34.6%) of those employed part-time, at the time of the survey.”

Anti-Bullying Order Revoked at the Request of the Complainant
The Fair Work Commission has revoked an anti-bullying order after the employee involved declared that the conflict between herself and her male colleague was “negligible.” In September, the FWC made a number of orders in relation to a male employee. These included: not exercising on the balcony in front of the applicant’s desk between 8:15am and 4:15pm, not speaking to the applicant in circumstances where there are no other individuals within listening-range and making no comments about the applicant’s attire and appearance. The female applicant was also ordered not to arrive at work before 8:15am.

One year after the order was made, the female applicant applied to the court for the revocation of the order. The applicant stated that “since our last meeting there has been a negligible amount of conflict between [the male employee] and myself, and I have felt comfortable approaching my supervisor… with any concerns that I have,” said the employee.”

Bullying Allegations at Appco
Fundraising giant Appco has launched an investigation into the treatment of donation-collectors following allegations of bullying and harassment. It is alleged that workers at an Appco Canberra-based marketing agency were subjected to bullying and harassment rituals if they “underperformed.” These rituals allegedly included an incident where employees were forced to dress up like chickens and fight each other, and an incident where employees were forced to slither on the floor in a “sluggie race.” Appco has launched an investigation into the treatment of employees at all of its other 64 marketing agencies. Appco has ordered these agencies to provide details of “suspected or known” bullying and harassment behaviour and provide written assurances that such behaviour is not tolerated.

How NOT to Give Feedback-Cost A Govt Agency $1m payout
A female employee who was employed at a NSW government agency has been awarded more than $1 million in a negotiated workplace bullying settlement. The employee was involved in an incident where two supervisors (one male and one female) “hurled accusations at her during a meeting called to provide her with feedback on an internal job application.” This incident resulted in a mental injury such that the woman cannot return to work.

The employee had made an error in her internal job application by duplicating an answer to one question in a response to another. Although the employee understood that this error invalidated her application, the two supervisors insisted on meeting to provide her with feedback. At this meeting the employee was accused of having an inappropriate office relationship, and claiming a colleague’s ideas were her own. After this meeting, the employee took a period of annual leave. When she returned to work she asked to move departments but instead was humiliated further as her supervisor placed her “outside their office and near the team [the employee] used to manage.” The employee was later sent to a mediation session with the female supervisor who “attacked [the employee] again to the point where the mediator told her to stop.” The employee left the agency in May 2012 and has been completely incapacitated from ever working again. The $1m payout was a combination of a successful bullying complaint and a worker’s compensation payout.