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Got it covered: Pool company cleared due to "reasonable steps"

In a 2012 decision to award damages to a sexually harassed worker, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) highlighted the importance of proper policies and their reinforcement.

In Menere v Poolrite Equipment Pty Ltd and Anor, QCAT awarded $8000 damages to the complainant, Mr Menere, to be paid by the colleague who had harassed him. However, the employer was found to have had adequate policies in place that were sufficiently enforced and therefore was cleared of liability.

The complaint was brought before QCAT during 2012 regarding sexual harassment which took place in 2008 while Mr Menere and his colleague, Kamal Singh, worked on an assembly line for the pool equipment company. Mr Menere complained of inappropriate touching, suggestive comments and other behaviour designed to humiliate and offend him.

The tribunal found that unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature did indeed take place and that the acts were committed with the intention to intimidate, humiliate or offend Mr Menere, or in circumstances where a reasonable person would expect Mr Menere to be offended.

In giving his findings, tribunal member N Jarro noted that, as part of the induction process, all workers were issued with an employee handbook containing a detailed section dealing with sexual harassment and workplace bullying. In addition to this:

"The first respondent caused its employees to undertake training in respect to sexual harassment within the workplace on a number of occasions, both before and after the harassing incidents. By doing so, it did more than merely have a policy in place. It took sufficient positive steps to ensure awareness and attempted compliance with appropriate workplace practices.....As such the first respondent has demonstrated to the requisite standard that it took reasonable steps to enable it to maintain a defence under s 133(2) of the Act."

Therefore, it is imperative that organisations be proactive in this area in order to avoid being held responsible for the inappropriate behaviour of workers.

Although the tribunal found that reasonable steps had been taken, it also found that the harassment took place and that the complainant had suffered trauma as a result. The human cost of workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination must not be forgotten. For this reason comprehensive, effective training solutions, such as those offered by iHR Australia, are essential; not only to protect the organisation from liability and bad press but to protect the workforce of which we are all part.

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