What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 7 June – 13 June 2021

Safe Work Australia Releases Sixth Annual National Statement Identifying Trends in Pscyhosocial Health and Safety and Bullying in Australian Workplaces

Safe Work Australia has released their sixth annual national statement which identifies trends in psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australia workplaces. The statement is comprised of data from accepted workers’ compensation claims caused by mental stress. This is assigned to claims when an employee has been exposed to one of a range of stressors (for example, harassment, bullying or unreasonable work pressure) that has caused an injury or disease. A key finding of the statement is that while mental stress claims only make up a small proportion of overall claims, the associated time lost, and costs are significantly higher compared to other workers compensation claims. Other findings include:
• The number of claims related to workplace harassment and/or bullying was at 2030 between 2017-18. The median time lost was 14.8 working weeks, and median direct cost was $34 600.
• The frequency rate of worker’s compensation claims for harassment and/or bullying and exposure to workplace or occupational violence made by female employees was more than twice the rate of men over 2016-17 to 2018-19.
• Occupations with a higher risk of exposure to work-related harassment and/or workplace bullying included miscellaneous clerical and administrative workers; defence force members, firefighters and police and miscellaneous labourers.
• Industry groups with the highest rates of claim for work-related harassment and/or workplace bullying included public order and safety services; residential care services and civic, professional and other interest group services.

BHP Reaffirms Harassment Stance Amid Assault Allegation

BHP has reaffirmed its commitment to eradicating harassment, following allegations a woman working at BHP’s South Flank mine was sexually assaulted in employee accommodation. The alleged incident took place at the mine site in November 2020. BHP investigated the incident after it was notified of the allegation, which resulted in dismissal. BHP has not commented on the specific allegations, but said it has a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and assault. A spokesperson said it viewed sexual harassment and assault as a ‘fundamental health and safety issue.’ They noted BHP had in recent years introduced ‘mandatory company-wide training, improvements to facilities such as lighting, signage and CCTV coverage, increased security presence and stricter control on alcohol consumption.’ The lawyer of the accused has indicated civil proceedings were underway against BHP in relation to his dismissal.

Rio Tinto Enlists Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to Strengthen Culture at the Company

Rio Tinto is working with former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, to improve culture at the company. Earlier this year, the Minerals Council of Australia (which includes BHP, Rio Tinto and Newcrest mining) committed to increasing their efforts to stop sexual harassment in response to the Respect@Work report by current Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. Ms Jenkins found 40% of the mining industry’s workforce had been sexually harassed in the past five years, compared with the average of 31% across all industries. The Australian chief executive of Rio, Kellie Parker, said much work was being put into improving mining camps across Australia, which included provisions as to alcohol consumption, available facilities and standards of rooms.

Sexual Harassment Complaints Against Serving Magistrate Sparks Call for Judicial Conduct Panel

The Judicial Conduct Commissioner of South Australia has called for a panel to be appointed to investigate sexual harassment claims against a serving magistrate after four more women came forward with complaints. The Commissioner, Ann Vanstone QC, started examining complaints about the conduct of the magistrate in May after a female lawyer made a complaint in a survey conducted as part of a review into sexual harassment within the state’s legal profession. Ms Vanstone released a public statement on Thursday, revealing four more women had come forward with complaints spanning seven years. Ms Vanstone recommended that the Attorney-General appoint a judicial conduct panel to investigate and report on the complaints. Attorney-General Vickie Chapman is considering the recommendation. The magistrate denies any impropriety.

Employee Dismissed for Failure to Comply with Social Media Policy and Code of Conduct: Waddy v Ability Centre Australasia Ltd

The case concerned an application for unfair dismissal. The respondent, Ability Centre Australasia, is a not-for-profit organisation providing services for people with cerebral palsy. The applicant, Mr Waddy, was employed as a General Hand at the organisation. Following a complaint from a member of the public, the Respondent was made aware of comments the Applicant had made in Facebook posts on his profile page. There were six posts from the year 2020, which were of a ‘discriminatory sexist and/or racist’ nature. The Respondent listened to the Applicant’s explanations for the posts and thereafter formed a view that his actions had caused a serious and imminent risk to the reputation, viability and profitability of the organisation. The Commission was satisfied that the Social Media Policy provided lawful and reasonable instruction to the applicant. They were further satisfied that the applicant made the Facebook posts and did identify on his profile that he was an employee at the organisation. The conduct constituted a breach of the Social Media Policy and Code. He expressed his opinions in a public forum that was entirely at odds with the values underpinning the organisation. The Commission concluded the respondent had a valid reason for dismissing the applicant based on his conduct, and the dismissal was not unfair.

NSW Review Will Consider Use of Non-Disclosure Agreements to Silence Sexual Assault Victims

The Victorian government will review the use of non-disclosure agreements in relation to workplace incidents as part of a wide-ranging investigation into preventing workplace sexual harassment. The taskforce will investigate the ways by which employers respond to sexual harassment, whether they should be required to report all incidents of sexual harassment to WorkSafe, and the use of non-disclosure agreements to settle sexual harassment allegations. The purpose of the Taskforce is to drive a culture of prevention and how this can be informed by transparency. The controversial use of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases was brought to global attention in the Harvey Weinstein case, and was recently brough to light again with allegations against the AFL.

Sony Music Investigating Bullying and Harassment Claims in Australia

Sony Music’s head office, based in the United States, is investigating claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment at its Australian branch. The global head of human resources has contacted former and current employees of Sony Music Australia after a staff member at the Darlinghurst HQ made a complaint. A number of confidential discussions have been held with former and current staff members. In April 2021, the organisation sacked its vice president of commercial music, Tony Glover, after an internal investigation found he had bullied and harassed a number of people at the company. Sony Music Australia has not yet commented on the allegations.