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Supermarket sued for $1.3m over sexual harassment claims

4 February 2014

A former manager claiming to have developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of alleged sexual harassment at work is suing her former employer for $1.3 million.

A sexual harassment complaint was lodged by the woman in the Human Rights Commission in September 2012 and the parties have attended compulsory mediation already. The accused manager and the employer deny the allegations.

As reported in the Age, the woman is a former night duty manager and has alleged that her boss harassed her between February and May 2011. The alleged harassment took various forms including asking suggestive questions such as ''been keeping your husband up late?'', asking the woman if she had ''thrown her leg over the wrong way'' when she was late to work one day, and ''leering'' at her bottom.

It is further claimed that the woman was dragged into an office by her manager and physically assaulted. In documents filed in the Federal Circuit Court she stated ''He used force to turn me around so I was facing him. The distance separating us was a few centimetres. He rubbed his hand up and down my entire forearm. I was panicking. I felt physically sick.'' The manager ''continued to tighten'' his grip on her so she could not leave.

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Photos which the woman took were submitted in court and show bruising on her arm days after the alleged incident, which was also partially captured on CCTV. The video footage was also shown in court and depicts the manager approaching the woman from behind then pulling her into a room off the corridor where the CCTV cameras are located. The room itself contained no cameras.

The former night duty manager, who is a mother of three, stopped work in October 2011 and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

The $1.3 million sought is partly to compensate her for the distress, humiliation and aggravation which she says resulted from her employer's handling of the complaint. She states that when she spoke to an HR manager about the incident he responded ''Well, my wife bruises like a peach. She can pick up a pencil and get a bruise.''

The manager about whom the allegations were made was told not to attend the store but has received a promotion since the period in question.

The woman described her situation after the alleged behaviour as being "rock bottom" saying, ''I had effectively lost my job, my social activities, the ability to see my friends, the ability to leave the house and the ability to relax.''

This case highlights the need for handling complaints properly when they are put forward. Those responsible for dealing with staff complaints have several options they can discuss with complainants in order to try and resolve the issue, but when serious matters come to light it is imperative that the organisation acts appropriately. Workplace investigation training should be provided to ensure that anyone tasked with handling complaints knows when an investigation is the appropriate response and how to conduct a workplace investigation fairly. A workplace investigation training program should boost the knowledge and confidence of internal investigators and help to protect the interests of employees and the organisation.

iHR Australia provides Workplace Investigation Officer training which uses actors to help participants better understand the issues surrounding workplace investigations and to observe and practice interview techniques. For more information about our public or onsite courses call 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry.

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