Federal police employee wins compensation battle after being intimidated, bullied and sexually harassed
An Australian Federal Police employee with more than 20 years experience has been awarded compensation by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia (AATA), after they found she had been intimidated, bullied and sexually harassed by a number of colleagues in Canberra.
The AATA deputy president found that Comcare, the agency responsible for workplace safety, rehabilitation and compensation within the federal government, was liable to pay the employee compensation in an undisclosed amount.
The case highlights the importance for all organisations to have clear strategies and procedures for managing allegations of bullying and harassment, in an effort to avoid workplace complaints from escalating to this point.
Court documents reveal that a number of incidents took place between 2010 and 2013, including repeated offences from a male AFP agent who made “derogatory, suggestive and sexually explicit and inappropriate comments” towards the woman, which reportedly made her feel scared and nervous when at work.
She further detailed allegations involving the same employee, who she said “would often find a way to touch you; he would stand behind me and breathe quite heavily”.
In a separate allegation, she claimed that a female team leader deliberately intimidated her and damaged her reputation, by talking behind her back, questioning her professional standards, changing her hours without consent and shouting at her.
In her testimony before the Tribunal, the employee said that she became “physically sick, going to work mentally drained; I was humiliated that she had damaged my reputation”, adding that she would “go to work and literally hide behind walls some days, frightened to see her.”
The employee told the court that she began experiencing sweating, trembling, shaking, palpitations, anxiety, stress and panic attacks on a daily basis as a result of her hostile work environment. Her deteriorating health was “caused by the thought of her calling me, coming into my workspace, unwelcomed behaviour and my integrity [being] questioned,” she said.
Workplace bullying is by no means a new phenomenon, but the way in which organisations deal with allegations of bullying and harassment is evolving. Without a clear strategy and process for assisting staff who are experiencing bullying, discrimination or harassment, organisations leave themselves open to serious financial and legal risks.
Trained Contact Officers can help reduce this risk for an organisation, as they are an important part of an effective system for handling complaints of inappropriate behaviour, while also demonstrating your company’s commitment to creating a safe and productive workplace where all employees are treated fairly and with respect.
Organisations need to recognise the importance of the contact officer role. iHR Australia’s Contact Officer training program offers participants an understanding of the role's responsibilities, sharing skills, knowledge and behaviours to help attendees learn how to solve a variety of common workplace issues.
It’s important to note that while contact officers do not resolve or investigate issues, they do provide staff with an opportunity to talk informally about a problem. A professional trained in this manner can help distressed employees decide what course of action to take and potentially mediate workplace complaints before they become more serious situations.