What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 27 February 2023 – 5 March 2023

Woodside Dismisses Twelve Workers for Misconduct

On Monday, Woodside Energy released its 2022 annual report, which provides the results of completed investigations into workplace misconduct. The report reveals that 36 investigations were conducted, resulting in the termination of six employees and six contractors. Further, of these investigations, seven cases were related to sexual harassment and five were related to bullying. The complaints related to 72 allegations against 37 staff and contractors, of which 43 were corroborated. To put the numbers into context, Woodside has 4427 employees (as of 31 Dec 2022) and 35% of its workforce is now female. Chief executive officer Meg O’Neill stated that people “are more comfortable speaking up” and that Woodside has “communicated in a very clear way that bullying, harassment [and] sexual harassment is unacceptable… if they do happen, we will take appropriate action.”

Parliament Set to Review Workplace Harassment Convention

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties held a hearing on 27 February regarding the International Labour Organization Convention. The hearing was in relation to the “elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.” The Convention aims to apply to a wide variety of individuals, extending beyond conventional workers to people “regardless of their contractual status.” Committee Chair John Wilson MP stated that “the Convention is the first international agreement to address the pervasive problem of violence and harassment in the world of work.” While John Wilson MP notes that Australia’s legislation already aligns with the Convention requirements, the Committee must keep with its “its accountability function”.

Sydney Lawyer Found Not Guilty on Sexual Assault Charges

A Sydney solicitor has been found not guilty after standing trial in the Parramatta District Court on charges relating to aggravated sexual assault. Prosecutors alleged that Mr Mercael had made advances to a junior solicitor at a Sydney law firm after a night of drinking alcohol and using cocaine. Further, it was alleged that Mr Mercael grabbed the complainant “by the throat” before he slapped her across the face and kicked her legs. The complainant had allegedly fallen to the floor and performed fellatio on him. After a four-hour deliberation, the jury found Mr Mercael not guilty on all charges.

FWC Finds Depressive State an ‘Exceptional Circumstance’ in Unfair Dismissal Claim

On 28 February 2023, the Fair Work Commission delivered its decision in the case of Mr Oliver Reeve v Pkf (Gold Coast) Hr Services. The case involved a worker who submitted an unfair dismissal application seven days past the legislative limit of 21 days. The company was unaware that the worker was being treated by a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist for approximately two years for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and major depressive disorder. Mr Reeve lodged an unfair dismissal application due to “unreasonable conduct,” including workplace bullying. Mr Reeve stated that while he was aware that the application was filed beyond the 21 day limit, the Commission should consider it an “exceptional” case as “he was incapacitated due to illness.” The Commission found that “his feelings of stress and anxiety causing the delay were not simply the product of subjective self-assessment” and that Mr Reeve had a “diagnosed mental health condition.” Ultimately, the Commission allowed Mr Reeve’s application.