What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 7 March 2021 – 14 March 2021

Woman Fired After Reporting Horror Sexual Harassment from Boss

Jessica, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, worked at a Sydney-based creative company. She was sexually harassed by her boss and reported it to her workplace, only to be terminated two months later. She described the workplace as being toxic from her very first day at the company, recalling other staff saying, ‘here comes fresh meat’. The situation escalated when she was required to work nights with her boss in a smaller building separated from the main office. During one of these nights, her boss placed his leg on her desk and placed his hand on his crotch, which was right next to her ear. When she reported the incident, she was told that it was not the first time a complaint had been made against this male superior. She was moved back into the main office however, her perpetrator did not take kindly to this change, and began verbally abusing and humiliating her in front of the other staffers. Eventually, she was terminated on the basis that the company was forced to choose between Jessica and her perpetrator.

How Parliament’s Sexual Assault Inquiry Will Tackle The ‘Wicked Problem’ Facing Staff and MPs

A “historic” investigation into bullying, sexual harassment and assault inside federal Parliament is set to rock politics over the course of this year. Drastic changes are expected in how women working in the seat of government are treated by their powerful bosses and co-workers. Kate Jenkins, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, has been charged with spearheading the review. The review will examine the “adequacy, effectiveness, independence, resourcing and awareness of current supports available” in preventing bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault, to bring Parliament up to best practices. The issues prompting the review were starkly highlighted in the government’s response to Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations, where pressure has come on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s team to explain why her serious reports did not get a better response, and who should have been notified. Ms Jenkins states that this review is crucial not only for Parliament, but for broader society, where reporting experiences is equally as difficult for survivors.

Vic Government Taskforce to Tackle Workplace Sexual Harassment

The Victorian government has launched a taskforce to address sexual harassment in workplaces across the state through the development of a range of new reforms, including a mandatory incident-notification scheme. The taskforce, announced by workplace safety minister Ingrid Stitt, minister for women Gabrielle Williams, and acting premier James Merlino, will look at ways to bolster the occupational health and safety framework to address sexual harassment. The group will also clarify employer obligations to improve accountability, consider ways to prevent the misuse of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment matters, and support workers to speak up against sexual harassment. It functions to educate employers on their responsibilities, including that failing to protect their staff from workplace sexual harassment is against the law. The Victorian government has made the announcements just weeks after former federal ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins alleged that she had been raped by a colleague at Parliament House in 2019, and allegations of sexual assault were made against federal attorney-general Christian Porter.

Barrister Awaiting Penalty for ‘Sexually Inappropriate Conduct’ at Clerk Event

A NSW barrister has been found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct after engaging in “sexually inappropriate conduct” towards a female legal professional at a barristers’ clerk’s dinner, which included grabbing her head and pushing her head towards his crotch whilst saying “suck my dick”.
The tribunal has asked the Bar Association council to provide a statement as to the disciplinary orders it is seeking as a consequence of the finding, together with any evidence it intends to rely on and submissions.
Judgement referred to: Council of the New South Wales Bar Association v EFA [2021] NSWCATOD 21 (4 March 2021).

Sacking of Former Staffer in WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook’s Electorate Office to be Investigated

A workplace dispute involving a former staff member of WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook will be investigated by the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission, after the sacked employee claimed there was a “toxic culture” in the office. Sanja Spasojevic, who
worked for nine years in Mr Cook’s electoral office claimed she was “afforded no explanation about my brutal and unexpected termination” and denied she was given procedural fairness. She also stated that there is no recourse for staffers who try and speak out against wrongdoing and it is seen as disloyal behaviour and going against the Labor Party. Mr Cook, who is also the Health and Mental Health Minister, said a number of workplace issues emerged relating to Ms Spasojevic during her employment and rejects her claims unequivocally.

Court Awards NSW Dad $276,000 After Finding he was Unlawfully Terminated

Greg Sherry worked as a Toyota manager for two decades before losing his job in March 2018. The company fired Mr Sherry “effective immediately” for “serious misconduct”, alleging he “had dishonestly and in breach of the relevant policies, incurred personal expenses on his corporate credit card. The Sydney man said his manager had given his approval for him to travel with his wife and two children for the trip, with Mr Sherry personally paying for his family’s flights and meals, and using his corporate card to book his own flights, the joint accommodation and food. The court heard that during the trip, he purchased a pizza for himself and gave his eight-year-old son a leftover slice or two. Toyota claimed Mr Sherry had broken company rules by purchasing the “meal for his son”, and he was also accused of booking a bigger hotel room than necessary and staying an extra night for “personal” reasons. In 2019, Mr Sherry launched legal action, seeking $301,000 in damages after he received a termination payment of just $80,521. The District Court of NSW found Mr Sherry did not act dishonestly and awarded him more than $276,000 because in “all the circumstances the plaintiff’s breaches of the relevant policies and procedures did not amount to serious misconduct as defined in the summary dismissal clause.”

School Principals Subjected to Violence

The Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2020, which was conducted jointly by researchers at the Australian Catholic University and Deakin University revealed that 83 in 100 principals were subjected to offensive behaviour toward them, ranging from gossip to violence and bullying. One of the key findings was in relation to offensive behaviour toward school principals including – threats of violence or being victims of physical violence, sexual harassment, bullying, unpleasant teasing, conflicts and quarrels, gossip and slander and cyber bullying. Almost all principals said they had worked overtime and close to 70 per cent reported working more than 56 hours a week during school term and 25 hours a week during holidays. The report’s authors made 16 recommendations for future action and said there was an urgent need to establish an independent taskforce to fully investigate offensive behaviour in schools.