What’s been happening in Australia in relation to workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying from 29 June – 5 July 2015?

So you can swear at your boss and sexually harass your work colleagues and not be fired…how is this possible? An employee during a work Christmas party told the company director and a senior product manager to ‘f*ck off’ and asked a colleague ‘who the f*ck are you? What do you do here?’ After the function he went to a bar with some of his colleagues where he called one female a ‘stuck up bitch’ and kissed another colleague.

The Commission held that the dismissal was harsh because his behaviour at the Christmas party was ‘isolated and aberrant in nature’. The Commission said that only the behaviour at the work function was relevant, not the behaviour at the bar after. Commissioner Hatcher said that employee’s conduct was the result of how intoxicated he became and an exacerbating factor was the serving of unlimited alcohol at the Christmas party. He said it was ‘contradictory and self- defeating for an employer to require compliance with its usual standards of behaviour at a function but at the same time allow the unlimited service of free alcohol at the function.’

Interesting outcome here. If the female colleagues who had been sexually harassed had made a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission it is very likely that the Commission/Tribunal would have held that the behaviour at the bar after the Christmas party was sufficient for a workplace connection to have been established and for the employee to be liable for sexual harassment. However unfair dismissal laws operate differently and provide wider protection to employees with inappropriate behaviour than sexual harassment laws. Thus the employee was successful in this case but may not have been so lucky if it had been before the EOC.

In any case what the judgement does demonstrate is that an employer has a duty not only to inform its staff to act appropriately at a Christmas function BUT also to limit the service of alcohol to its employees.

Allegations of bullying in the NT health sector have been disclosed. Claims include multiple allegations of people inappropriately accessing private personal files for information to use against colleagues. 25 complaints were made in the year of 2013-2014.

More than one in ten complaints of sexual harassment are men in relation to men. As evidenced from a snapshot of sexual harassment complaints made in a 6 month period across all of the Equal Opportunity Commissions in Australia.

Research found that women were accused of sexually harassing men in 5% of cases and men accused other men in 11% of cases. The majority of cases were female complaints against males (78.4%). Women were accused of sexually harassing other women in 5.7% of cases. The research shows that men are also the targets of sexual harassment far more commonly than is typically assumed.

The majority of complaints were lodged against men and women in more senior positions. Male-to-male complaints often included homosexual slurs and the questioning of men’s sexuality. The most frequent form of physical harassment was unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing.

Removing gender restrictions on combat roles has not solved the issue of low recruitment and retention levels of women in the Australian defence force. Women currently make up 14% of the ADF and are underrepresented in senior positions (6%). The ADF has more then doubled it’s spending on recruitment with one of the key aims being the recruitment of more women. Women are more likely to leave the ADF due to instances of harassment and lack of mentoring for women.

It’s not too soon to be thinking about educating and training your staff in relation to behaviours at the end of year Christmas Parties. Appropriate training and implementing sensible practices can save you post Christmas blues when you have to deal with the fall out of inappropriate behaviours. For more information call Franca on (08) 6102 4411 or email franca@franca.com.au