What’s been happening in Australia in relation to workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying from 31 August – 6 September 2015

Fair Work Building & Construction have opened a probe into claims of bullying committed by the CFMEU at the Melbourne Airport site. There have been claims of coercion and intimidation.

A review of Queensland’s industrial relations laws will include discrimination and work health and safety issues. The review is broad in scope and will impact on Queensland’s Industrial Relations Act 1999. The review is due to report to Government by December 2015 with recommendations for legislative amendment. The review involves broad consultation and the opportunity for stakeholders to make formal submissions. The review foreshadows the potential for increased harmonisation with the Fair Work Act.

Elizabeth Broderick has said the gender pay gap will continue to widen if the Senate passes the Government’s changes to paid parental leave. The Government amendments are designed to save nearly $1 billion by winding back the ability of new parents to access both the taxpayer funded 18-week minimum wage and any employer provided entitlements.

The Full Bench of the FWC has endorsed an employer’s right to enforce a drug-testing regime that incorporates both random saliva and urine testing. It concluded that a policy requiring employees to undergo both forms of testing was reasonable, given the deterrent value of the testing and its role in allowing the employer to identify and manage safety risks at the workplace. This changes the previous position which allowed for testing of saliva but not urine.

The FWC upheld Qantas’s decision to dismiss an employee for giving discounted international airfares to numerous friends. On several occasions Panera was found to have given her acquaintances the cheapest possible tickets for future bookings. Panera lodged an unfair dismissal application and argued she was not aware that she had breached company policies. It was found that she had been made aware and was provided with a letter outlining the allegations against her. She was also given a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations. The dismissal was not harsh.

An employee who went on an email tirade insulting the organisation’s IT department has won his unfair dismissal case. This was despite the FWC ruling his destructive communication style was a valid reason for his dismissal. The Commission heard that Horgan had been issued with a warning concerning his “insulting others and bad mouthing the college.” Commissioner Roe said that Horgan had been warned and counselled about the matter and he was satisfied the behaviour was not acceptable. However, the valid reason for dismissal did not outweigh all the other factors. The dismissal was unjust because Dr Horgan was not advised of the reasons or given an opportunity to respond to them. He was awarded a total of 4 weeks pays in compensation.

This is yet another example where the unjust dismissal could have been avoided if the employer had followed the principles of natural justice when it conducted the investigation. If you want to know what this looks like in practice then email franca@franca.com.au and put in the heading natural justice questions.