What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 7 – 13 March 2016

Offensive Language Used by Army Commander to Female Subordinates

Special Operations Commander Jeffrey Sengelman
was forced to apologise for using offensive language towards two female officers. Last year two female army officers lodged complaints about the “tone and language” used by Major General Sengelman after a series of workplace conversations with him. Army chief Angus Campbell noted that the investigation found there was no sexual harassment or proposition made. Rather the investigation concluded that although it was likely the remarks were made in jest and not intended to offend or upset the recipients, they were unacceptable under Defence policy and capable of being perceived as offensive. The investigation has now been concluded.

What’s in a Name?
In Canada, a parliamentary debate is taking place proposing that resumes submitted within the Canadian public service should not have the candidate’s name on them, in order to preclude the systemic (often subconscious) biases of employers. Research conducted in Canada compared the preference for “Mathew” over “Samir” finding widespread “subconscious statistical discrimination.” Further research has demonstrated that women often suffer from discriminatory behaviour in resume-selection on the basis of their names. Within Australia it has been found that discrimination against persons with East Asian and Middle Eastern names is particularly rife.

UWA Employee Dismissed for Forwarding Photoshopped Pictures of the VC
James Mitton, a senior administrative officer at the University of Western Australia’s School of Indigenous Studies has been dismissed after he shared a series of photo shopped pictures with his colleagues. One of the photoshopped memes was created in the style of a greeting card, with the Grinch-like message: “Season’s Greetings, I hope you’re employable elsewhere in 2016.”

Another depicted the vice-chancellor with devil’s fangs posing in front of a pit of fire, while the third saw Mr Johnson’s face superimposed over a movie poster with the tagline: “Pledged to crush.”

The University dismissed Mr Mitton on the grounds of “serious misconduct,” evidenced by the sharing of “inappropriate and disrespectful photos” and reference to the university as “evil.” Mr Mitton allegedly responded to this letter in a response that was “recalcitrant” and used “disrespectful language.” It is understood that Mr Mitton will be filing an unfair dismissal case with the Fair Work Commission on the basis that the grievance process the University conducted had holes in it and the actions complained off did not warrant dismissal.

It will be interesting to see what is unearthed in terms of the behaviour complained of and the grievance process the University conducted. Either are grounds for a successful unfair dismissal claim.

Age Discrimination is a Real Issue
Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan has said that workplace discrimination, affordable and accessible housing and elder abuse are amongst the most significant issues currently facing older women. Ms Ryan noted that the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into employment discrimination against older people had shown age discrimination in the workforce remained rife. Relevantly, around one third of those who lost their job due to age discrimination would never work again, resulting in effects such as poverty, ill health, loss of social contact and homelessness.

Report About Suicides of St John Paramedics
A new report has found that there was a complex mix of factors that contributed to the suicides of five volunteers and paramedics between December 2013 and March 2015.

Submissions to the report “unearthened allegations of a culture of bullying at St John’s as well as paramedics who fear losing their jobs if they speak out about mental health issues.” The report by WA Chief Psychiatrist Nathan Gibson did not commend on this culture of bullying, as it was not within the scope. The report made seven recommendations to help St John Ambulance support its staff including improving conflict resolution in the workplace.

Alleged Discrimination based on Disability
Karen Messent has lodged an action with the Federal Circuit Court, alleging that her former employer, Unley Council, has breached her ‘human rights’ and the Disability Discrimination Act. Unley Council had employed Ms Messent for seven years before her dismissal in September. She claims that the council failed to make a ’reasonable adjustment’ by refusing to allow her to work reduced hours after she was diagnosed with a disability (psoriatic arthritis). Ms Messer is suing for damages for past and future economic losses, $50,000 in “general damages for pain and suffering”, interest and any other orders the “court sees fit”.

Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in the Worplace
The prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace has remained largely unchanged during the past 30 years. One in four female employees has experienced sexual harassment at work at some time in the past five years. Further up to 67% of female retail workers have been victims of harassment. Research undertaken at the University of Sydney has found that customer-perpetrated sexual harassment is alarmingly common and that employees feel quite restricted in their ability to respond to it. Although amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act in 2011* made customer-perpetrated sexual harassment unlawful, research has revealed that “social norms of the retail and hospitality industries make it challenging for employees to establish and reinforce boundaries with customers.” The “customer is always right ethos” has resulted in many employees questioning whether sexual propositions or derogatory language were ‘serious enough’ to make a complaint. The research found that staff were more likely to internalise their frustration or to cope with it by talking to colleagues, often in a “jokey” fashion. Many employees also saw managing unwanted sexual attention from customers to be part of their job.

*s 28G says it is unlawful for a person to sexually harass another person in the course of providing, or offering to provide, goods, services or facilities to that other person. In addition it is unlawful for a person to sexually harass another person in the course of seeking, or receiving, goods, services or facilities from that other person