What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 25 March 2024 – 31 March 2024

Can a Break-Up Lead to Unjust Dismissal?

The Fair Work Commission recently dealt with an unfair dismissal case involving a worker who claimed she was wrongfully terminated by her former partner when their romance broke down.

In August 2023, the worker and her employer’s personal relationship broke down, leading to significant hostility between them. The employer issued a letter to the worker, alleging that she had made 12 unauthorized transactions from the company’s bank accounts and had attempted to prevent him from operating the business by changing the password for its email account. The worker declined to attend a meeting to discuss the allegations, and the employer subsequently sent her a termination letter on September 2, 2023.

The FWC found that the personal and professional relationships between the worker and her employer overlapped significantly, with the boundaries between business and personal expenditure being unclear. There was a significant degree of informality in the operation of the business due to the overlapping personal and professional relationships.

Although the FWC found that the worker deliberately changed the password to the employer’s email account on August 17, 2023, it determined that this step was taken primarily against her employer in his personal capacity rather than being directed against the company as a corporation. The FWC was not satisfied that the worker was attempting to cause damage to the company when she took this step. Thus, it said that the worker was unfairly dismissed. It then ordered the employer to pay compensation.

Church of Ubuntu loses unfair dismissal case

A Newcastle-based wellness clinic fired Lainie Chait for getting a COVID vaccine in 2021. The Fair Work Commission has ruled that the decision was “inherently unreasonable”.

In October 2021, Ms Chait was working for the Newcastle-based church and clinic, which promotes and sells alternative plant-based health remedies. She said that at the time there had been “anti-vaccination mutterings” at the organisation, but no firm policy. “I knew that if I wanted to see my parents, I needed to get the vaccine,” she said. “When my boss found out, I was fired.”

The Fair Work Commission found her termination was unfair and awarded damages of $8,000 against the Church of Ubuntu, which describes itself as a religious organisation with an associated independent wellness clinic.

Cardiologist sent Thousands of Texts to Young Employee Accused of Sexually Harassing

A cardiologist bombarded his young female employee with thousands of texts, repeatedly asked her for coffee, offered her lifts home and allegedly touched her buttocks, according to a sexual harassment claim from Jennifer de Jongh, 28. She also alleged Professor Chris Semsarian, 57, showed up unannounced at her home, prompting her housemate to threaten to call police.

Jennifer reported directly to Prof Semsarian while working at the Centenary Institute from June, 2022 to December of that year, where the pair exchanged between 3,000 and 4,000 texts. During this time, Prof Semsarian is accused of constantly asking Ms de Jongh for coffees, and offering her lifts home. He allegedly bombarded her with texts using love heart and smiling emojis that were often sent out of work hours and late at night.

At the end of November, Ms de Jongh received a certificate from her doctor saying she was unfit to work for the next week due to ‘stress and anxiety arising from Professor Semsarian’s conduct’. The professor then sent chocolates and fruit to her house. On December 5, 2022, Ms de Jongh called him to say she would be resigning.

Three days later Prof Semsarian tried to call Ms de Jongh twice before appearing unannounced at her apartment and ringing the intercom multiple times. She didn’t answer but her roommate told Prof Semsarian not to come to their home again or she’d call the police, according to the statement of claim. Ms de Jongh blocked his number the following day and left for New Zealand.

The statement of claim alleges Prof Semsarian’s conduct was ‘inappropriately affectionate’ and was conducted in a ‘manner that mimicked a romantic relationship’. According to the claim, Ms de Jongh suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, along with loss of past and future income. An investigation was not launched by the Centenary Institute. The organisation said it was filing a defence and was ‘unable to comment’. It added it takes eliminating harassment in the workplace seriously.

ALRC’s Recommendations Would Ensure that Students and Teachers are Protected from Discrimination

The Australian Human Rights Commission welcomes the tabling of the report by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) on Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws.

The ALRC’s recommendations would ensure that students and teachers are protected from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy – regardless of which school or educational institution they attend.

The report also recognises the right to freedom of religion and that religious schools should be able to preference the employment of people who share the same religion, where this is reasonably necessary and proportionate to the aim of building or maintaining a community of faith.

Was it forced resignation? Pregnant manager alleges discrimination | HRD Australia

An employee at MAG Apprentices alleges that after informing her employer of her pregnancy, she was excluded from meetings, had her work reassigned and was refused flexible work arrangements which resulted in her taking personal leave and ultimately resigning on August 31, 2023.

The FWC said that while there were tensions in the employment relationship before August 21, 2023, and Sayce had the right to feel aggrieved by some of MAG Apprenticeships’ decisions, her resignation was not forced and therefore she could not apply for constructive dismissal.

Speaking from Experience Project – Australian Human Rights Commission

Speaking from Experience invites people who have been sexually harassed at work to have their say about what they think needs to change to make workplaces safer. The information gathered will help create resources that will help workers and employers know how to make workplaces safer for everyone, as well as inform future law reform priorities.

Through a user-friendly web portal hosted on the Commission website, people who have been sexually harassed at work can submit written or audio submissions outlining their recommendations on what needs to change to address workplace sexual harassment.

How sexism hits older women hard later in life | Aged Care Guide

A recent study of the impact of gender discrimination on older women shows that it negatively affects their mental well-being and life satisfaction.

One in 11 women aged 52 years and over reported that they had experienced gender discrimination, which was linked with more depressive symptoms, more loneliness and lower quality of life.

Women returning to work after pregnancy report high levels of discrimination in Australia

The report, which surveyed over 1,200 Australian pregnant and parent workers, aimed to look at the work conditions and discrimination.

43.9% aso said they received negative or offensive remarks over working part-time or requiring flexible work hours, according to the report. Some 44.6% also noted they received “no information” about their return-to-work entitlements.

Upon returning, some 26.9% of the respondents also noted they weren’t provided with appropriate breastfeeding or expressing facilities.

• Given fewer opportunities for career advancement and/or promotion (45.1%)
• Returned to a job with a lower status or less responsibility (34%)
• Had their tasks or jobs altered against their wishes (30.6%)
• Received less salary and/or bonuses, or received a lesser pay rise or bonus than their peers at work (23%)

Some 6.8% were threatened with redundancy or termination of employment, while 7.7% were actually made redundant by their employer.

Another 5.8% said their contracts weren’t renewed, 3.9% said they were made casual, while 3.5% said they were terminated.

Some of the incidents includes:

• Had their opinions ignored (64.8%)
• Were ignored or excluded (43.4%)
• Experienced excessive monitoring of their work (41.2%)
• Got ignored or faced a hostile reaction when they approached (27.9%)
• Received repeated reminders of errors or mistakes (24.1%)
• Were humiliated or ridiculed in connection to their work (20.7%)
• Received persistent criticism of errors or mistakes (20.7%)
• ‘Intention to resign’ high among principals as violence and abuse rise – The Canberra Times
• The Canberra Times

More than half of Australian principals were considering resigning. An unmanageable workload was the primary challenge faced by principals participating in Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) annual Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing survey.
Increasing rates of violence and abuse towards principals was also a major concern. The survey found instances of physical violence had increased by 76.5 per cent since 2011.

Fair Work: ‘Workplace trauma’ didn’t lead to forced resignation | HRD Australia

The FWC recently dealt with an unfair dismissal case involving a worker who claimed she was constructively dismissed. The worker, who had been employed since July 2019, alleged that her employer failed to provide adequate support and safety measures, leading to her experiencing vicarious trauma and psychological harm.
The worker said that the nature of her role involved investigations that involved abuse of children and people with disabilities.

The worker described three particularly traumatic events she experienced during her employment:

1. In 2020/2021, she was harassed by a teacher who was the subject of an investigation and a positive finding related to sexual harassment and assault of a student.

2. On January 26, 2022, her home property was vandalized with the word “Bitch” spray-painted on buildings and fences, which she suspected might have been done by someone she had interviewed during an investigation.

3. In early 2023, she interviewed a Disability Support Worker who was not informed that the client they were discussing had passed away, leading to severe emotional distress.
The worker claimed that the demands of her work and the lack of support affected her health and forced her to resign. The FWC did not accept that the worker “had no effective or real choice but to resign” and concluded that the worker’s resignation was not caused by the conduct or course of conduct engaged in by the employer. The FWC noted the changes the employer made, and the lack of any real medical evidence related to vicarious trauma.

Sex offenders banned from working with children in SA | The Canberra Times

South Australia has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to ban convicted or accused child sex offenders from working with children.

Current laws prevent child sex offenders across the country from working in businesses that provide direct services to children, such as childcare, tutoring or coaching.
But the bill passed in SA’s lower house on Tuesday goes a step further, preventing registered child sex offenders – as well as those charged and on bail – from taking any job in a business where they would be in contact with underage employees.