What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 9 – 15 January 2023

Court Orders $53,00 To Former Worker After Sexual Harassment and Racial Discrimination In Workplace

VCAT provides yet another example of its firm approach to sexual harassment claims – Lexology
Link to case: Kumari v Bervar Pty Ltd (Human Rights) [2023] VCAT 21 (9 January 2023) (austlii.edu.au)

On 9 January 2023, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ordered that the pizza chain “Della Rosa Fresh Foods” pay $53,000 ($15,000 related to lost wages) to former employee Sudesh Kumari following a hearing in relation to sexual harassment, racial discrimination and victimisation claims.

Kumari complained that an employee was found to be “looking at her breasts” rather than her face when addressing her. Kumari then raised the incident with her employer, where she was told “You are Indian, I don’t like Indians, they always cause problems.” After raising the incident, Kumari was instructed to take annual leave for 1 week, and on her return was moved to a different location, despite her not wanting to. Della Rosa proceeded to terminate her employment a month later.

VCAT held that Ms Kumari was sexually harassed when a fellow employee looked at her breasts (award of $7000). The Tribunal also said that she was treated unfavourably due to her race when he said, “You are India, I don’t like Indians, they always cause problems,” and she was discriminated against based on her sex in their investigation of her complaint and by transferring her to a different workplace where there were only women. Ms Kumari also experienced victimisation by way of directing her to take annual leave and transferring her to a different workplace and then terminating her employment.

Northern Territory Firefighter Reinstated After Dismissal Due To COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate

A Northern Territory firefighter has returned to work following a decision by the Northern Territory Public Sector Appeals Board to reinstate him after his dismissal in 2021. The employee was stood down in 2021 as a result of his vaccination status, following the implementation of the COVID-19 mandate in the Northern Territory. The reinstatement has raised concerns of consistency, where out of a total of seven vaccine-related dismissals in the NT Fire and Rescue Service, only two were successfully reinstated.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Controversial Sex Abuse and Bullying Investigations

The AFP is currently facing criticism in relation to a failing anonymous sex abuse and bullying hotline. The hotline was intended to serve as an anonymous resource for employees to report incidents of sexual harassment, bullying or assault occurring within the organisation. These reports would be independent and form the basis for investigations. However, these amendments have recently been criticised by the Commonwealth Ombudsman due to having “quietly shifted back to internal affairs.” Charlotte Tessler, Chief Operating Officer of the AFP, noted that a secondary review was taking place in light of the recent controversy.