Employer Succeeds in Defending Sexual Harassment Claim
In Menere v Poolrite Equipment Pty Ltd and Anor  QCAT 252, the employer successfully defended a sexual harassment claim by proving that it had an appropriate policy in place which was in line with employment law and implemented it through regular training.
Background and Facts
- was a casual assembly line worker
- experienced a number of incidents of sexual harassment by a co-worker over a period of 3 months
- after a particularly disturbing incident, the employee approached his supervisor and was subsequently relocated to a different area of the warehouse
- the employee also approached the Health and Safety Officer who offered to report the matter to higher management, however, the employee declined and elected not to lodge a written report.
The Tribunal considered whether the employer had done enough to prevent such conduct from occurring in the workplace and key findings were:
- when the employee began employment in 2008 he received an induction handbook which went into detail about harassment and workplace bullying issues
- the handbook included expectations and responsibilities placed on employees regarding expected conduct in the workplace
- employees were required to sign the document acknowledging that they had read and understood it
- the employer had arranged employee training on sexual harassment within the workplace in 2007 and in 2009
- it was the role of the Health and Safety Officer to ensure that staff received appropriate training when required
- although the employee declined to take the matter further, management demonstrated their persistent effort to deal with the issue
- the sexual harassment incident was subsequently reported to the Operations Director who responded immediately by meeting with the employee and documenting his version of events
- following an investigation of the conduct, the co-worker was dismissed
- the Operations Manager advised the employee that in the future he should follow the policy and procedures straight away in order to deal with complaints and any potential issues as soon as they occur.
Lessons for Employers
In order to assist with defending a claim in a sexual harassment or bullying matter and access the beneficial protection obtained by the employer in this case it is important that an employer:
- implements a proper written Sexual Harassment and Bullying Policy including compliance with any relevant Work Health & Safety Code of Practice and relevant employment law
- include practical grievance and dispute resolution procedures
- ensure that the policies and procedures are distributed and understood by all employees including whenever revisions occur
- constantly enforce and reinforce the policies through regular training
- be conscious of what is occurring in the workplace
- properly and promptly investigate issues as they arise (if needed this would involve the appointment of a third party investigator)
- take appropriate action based on of the outcome of the investigation
- seek employment law advice when necessary
An employment relations expert or HR lawyer can assist in ensuring your practices, policies and procedures for managing workplace issues are consistent with current workplace law.
Please call the leading employment lawyers in Parramatta, the Matthews Folbigg Workplace Solutions team on 9635-7966 to speak with one of our employment lawyers Sydney.