The important role workplace mediators can play in the resolution of disputes has once again been recognised, as developments in a recent high-profile sexual harassment case illustrate.
The chief financial officer at a national real estate company is facing sexual harassment allegations, brought forward by a former executive assistant at the company.
A day after the allegations were made public, along with the former employee’s intention to pursue legal action, lawyers for the employee announced that both parties have agreed to participate in private mediation.
Despite being outlawed in Australia for 25 years, sexual harassment remains a serious problem in the Australian workplace. Sexual harassment has been recognised as a form of sex discrimination, and so falls within the jurisdiction the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). Many forms of unlawful discrimination – including, but not limited to, sexual discrimination – are also subject to the Fair Work Act 2009, and can thus be immediately subject to a range of remedies and penalties.
Contravention of unlawful discrimination protections attract significant fines. Under the Fair Work Act 2009, corporations are liable to $54,000 per contravention, while individuals are subject to a fine of up to $10,800 per contravention.
Yet as this recent case demonstrates, workplace mediation is recognised as an important part of dispute resolution, even for something as serious as sexual harassment, workplace discrimination or bullying.
In this instance, the employee alleged that her boss, a CFO at the company, tried to force her head down to his crotch, undressed in front of her to get changed into a fancy dress costume, and offered to arrange for her to have sex with a colleague in the office.
The employee is alleging that the unwanted behaviour was repeated over a period of time, and said she made it clear to the person that the conduct was unwelcome.
Workplace mediation is a dispute resolution technique that helps parties recover a workable relationship or reach an agreeable outcome without court intervention.
To protect all parties, workplace mediation is a confidential and structured negotiation process, facilitated by an impartial third party. iHR Australia provides professional workplace mediation services to organisations that are seeking to resolve issues in a cost-effective and informal manner. With workplace mediators across Australia, we can conduct mediation in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra.
While our workplace mediators are experienced, sensitive and have worked in different industries and organisations, we can also partner with your organisation by offering Workplace Mediator training.
Through our full-day training program we guide participants through the key principles of conducting an effective workplace mediation, focusing on best practice process and the skills required of an effective mediator.
The third party role in a workplace mediation process is key to a successful outcome, as it provides a safe environment that allows one or both parties to clarify for the other the impact of certain behaviours or incidents.
The mediator also assists the parties in identifying options and negotiating an agreement that will settle the dispute. The Federal Court has recognised that, for some cases, workplace mediation is an alternative to a judge imposing a decision.
In serious cases such a sexual harassment, it is of course necessary to first determine the facts of the case, and to clearly establish what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. After investigation of the complaint, workplace mediation can play an effective role in establishing an agreement about how to manage the complaint and normalise the workplace.
In cases where companies are subject to a culture of discrimination, workplace mediation can play an invaluable and effective role in reminding all employers and employees of their rights and responsibilities, to promote a safe and respectful work environment for all, and potentially avoid costly future litigation.