What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 5 – 11 October 2015

A report into junior doctors at the Canberra Hospital has found they have faced long-running bullying, harassment, sexist treatment and management failures, leading to poor accountability and concerns about patient care. The report by KPMG found 76% of respondents observed bullying, discrimination and harassment, with complaints unlikely to be resolved in timely or effective ways. Health Minister said the government would implement all 7 recommendations from the report and would establish a new leadership group to overhaul a toxic culture. The report found staff feared complaining about misconduct and it lead to retribution and a poor performance rating in competitive training environments. The report also found that there was a culture of shaming. Trainees were subject to inappropriate language and sarcastic feedback and publicly blamed for others’ problems. The report’s recommendations call for more study of areas within the hospital that accept or condone bullying and harassment, new statements of culture and communication campaigns and revised recruitment processes.

The Deputy President for the FWC has been asked to stand down from hearing a bullying case after she was accused of workplace bullying. Mr Bird was accused of bullying a fellow employee; he had his lawyers ask to have Deputy President Wells disqualify herself due to similar allegations against herself. Wells initially denied the allegations.

The reason why it may be appropriate for Wells to hear the allegations is because of an alleged bias she may have to be able to make a fair, impartial decision.

Lorna Jane has rejected claims by a former employee that she was picked on because of her weight and had become ‘decrepit and suicidal’ as a result of being ‘fat shamed’. Ms Robinson is suing Lorna Jane for more than $548,000. Ms Robinson left her position as store manager after battling mental health issues. She claims she was picked on because of her weight, bullied on social media and called offensive names. She alleges that the bullying triggered a mental disorder and a major depressive episode.

While physical attributes (such as weight) is not a protected category of discrimination in any state in Australia (except Victoria) if the allegations are substantiated they would constitute bullying under our federal legislation, namely repeated, inappropriate behaviour that leads to a risk of mental harm.

The FWC has awarded a former Coles employee $4500 in compensation after she was dismissed over a verbal and physical altercation with 2 teenage girls suspected of theft. Ms Smith was dismissed for being allegedly involved in serious misconduct, despite her claims she only acted in self-defence. Smith took the matter to the FWC arguing the decision to fire her was not proportionate to the events and that she should be reinstated. Coles argued that the dismissal was justified because Smith had breached the code of conduct for handling threatening situations by swearing and grabbing one of the girls.

Commissioner Mapton said that while Smith was motivated by the need to protect the interests of Coles her actions had been inappropriate and unnecessarily escalated the conflict. However, he still found her dismissal to be harsh for other reasons in relation to how Coles managed the situation.

This is a good case to remind employers where their staff are involved in managing difficult client situations it is important for the employer to have a written policy and procedure and training on how staff are expected to conduct themselves.