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Investment bank accused of sexism and bullying

24 September 2013

A major international investment bank has been accused of bullying behaviour and sexual discrimination by the organisation's former Australian vice president.

According to an article published by The Australian, the former vice president is suing the bank for damages related to "humiliation and distress", "loss of income" and "damage to personal and professional reputation" after she was dismissed from her role in May.

The vice president was reportedly involved in a consensual relationship with a managing director at the bank prior to her dismissal. However, when the managing director left his position in February, the vice president claims she became the victim of sexist behaviour and workplace bullying.

The Australian Human Rights Commission offers the following definition of workplace bullying: "the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker."

After being dismissed, the vice president claims to have been presented with a termination letter that would see her surrender her right to sue the organisation for such things as "loss of reputation, stress, humiliation or embarrassment or discrimination".

She refused to sign, and The Australian reports that the investment bank now faces serious allegations that involve high profile names in its Australian arm.

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This story highlights the fact that workplace bullying and sexual discrimination can occur at any level of an organisation. It also showcases how quickly a case like this can make media headlines and lead to reputational damage if a business does not take the proper precautions.

Your organisation can go a long way towards mitigating the risk of an incident such as this by ensuring that staff members are undergoing comprehensive bullying and harassment training. Any organisational policies covering such areas must also be effectively implemented and clearly communicated to all staff, including senior management.

Clear policies and effective training will educate all employees as to what is and what is not appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and will help to ensure they speak up if they witness or experience anything that might be of concern. Early reporting and intervention are key factors in preventing matters from escalating and it is also important for organisations to properly investigate any matters brought to their attention. These steps can help an organisation to protect itself from claims of vicarious liability.

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