How to avoid a $10k sexual harassment payout

A kitchen hand at a New South Wales restaurant was awarded $10,000 after being sexually harassed at work by her boss. In a scenario such as this, how can an employer avoid being found vicariously liable?

In this case, both the restaurant’s owner and the chef who was responsible for the harassment were ordered to pay $5,000 each to the employee. The case was heard at the Civil and Administrative Tribunal, New South Wales and it was noted that no training had been provided to restaurant staff regarding sexual harassment.

This case may seem somewhat straightforward; the chef touched the employee’s breast and attempted to touch it again after she had clearly told him not to, he then offered her $1000 not to complain or tell anyone about the incident. However, although the tribunal found that the chef’s account of the incident was not believable, it is possible that the business could have avoided a payout, had the necessary precautions been taken.

Providing sufficient workplace training and information to employees about inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment and workplace bullying, is vital for employers to demonstrate that they are fulfilling their duty of care and have taken all the necessary steps to prevent incidents from occurring. This goes for small to medium businesses as well as larger employers and training should sit alongside up to date policies covering these areas.

Training should be appropriate to the level of the employee, covering manager or worker responsibilities as needed. It is also important to cover what employees experiencing inappropriate behaviour should do to address the matter, including those who witness behaviour.