As the custodians of their workplace culture, managers should create an environment that discourages bullying, harassment and discrimination. In doing so, their employees are more productive and the potential for costly and time-consuming workplace disputes is minimised.

 

In a recent case before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, a small business manager was found to have sexually harassed a female employee, highlighting the ramifications that such accusations can have upon a business when an employee experiences victimisation.

The employee had been part of the retail post office staff, without incident, since 2011. She claimed that she had viewed her boss as “like a dad” until the harassment started in 2013. Over the course of a four-month period, physical, verbal and written — via SMS, notes and a Valentine’s Day card — occurred.

The manager admitted that he tried to “test the waters” during that time, allegedly saying, “My hands are shaking, my hands are shaking. I need to get this out of my head. I am not sure when it started; maybe it was the new uniforms. I cannot get you out of my head. I find you beautiful, desirable and intelligent. I know you can be naive and say silly things, but I know there is a brain in there. Your eyes, your skin, your fingers, even your ears are just beautiful.” Upon declining this advance, the employee stated that the manager requested that she shut her eyes, at which point he attempted to kiss her.

As the months passed, the manager’s attentions became more explicitly sexual, with such instances as delivering the note, “Let me massage your thighs for 15 minutes and you can have everything in my wallet,” and likening the employee to a Lamborghini sitting in a garage that he no longer wanted if he couldn’t drive it.

The employee gave notice, yet asked if she could continue to work Saturday shifts until she found a new job. She alleged that the employer said if she could demand Saturday shifts he “should be able to demand favours” from her and if she would have not sex with him he would “just take it anyway”. Her Saturday shifts and the medium-term casual work arrangement was concluded after rejecting her boss’s advances and a reference was refused.

The employee claimed discrimination, victimisation and sexual harassment, providing substantial physical evidence to the tribunal, including screen shots of often crude text messages, phone records and a Valentine’s Day card detailing his desire for her. She also alleged that the manager touched her inappropriately.

The manager rebutted the employee’s claims, stating that she encouraged his behaviour by continuing to place herself in close proximity and requesting Saturday shifts when they worked alone together.

The judge rebutted the manager’s defence, asserting that if an employer engages in the sexual harassment of an employee, it is not appropriate to criticise the employee for not handling the harassment better by not storming out of the room or escaping the harasser earlier.

Furthermore, the judge found the employer’s continued sexual harassment caused the employee to ultimately leave her job and that the employer “behaved vindictively” in failing to provide a reference.  The tribunal will hold a further hearing to determine the loss, damage and compensation.

 

iHR Australia believes creating a constructive, safe and lawful workplace culture reduces the risk of bullying and anti-discrimination. In our Anti Discrimination and Bullying Training for Managers training, participants learn how managers play a key role in preventing and effectively managing these issues in the workplace, as well as avoiding certain management styles to lessen the risk of such occurrences and litigation.

 

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