Australia: $1.3 Million in Damages for Sexual Harassment
In an attempt to reduce workplace bullying and harassment, Australia introduced strict legislation in 2014 which placed a statutory duty on employers to ensure they were operating a workplace with acceptable standards of behavior. As a result, individuals have been able to make a direct approach to the Fair Work Commission regarding inappropriate behavior. In our previous updates, we have advised readers with operations in Australia to introduce appropriate workplace policies and management training to ensure that the responsibilities of an employer met.
A recent case serves as a timely reminder to any organization that has failed to put in place appropriate anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies. In the case of Matthews v Winslow Constructors (Vic) Pty Ltd, the employee was subjected to extensive and sustained sexual harassment and bullying during her two years of employment. Her ability to raise a formal complaint was restricted by the fact that her manager was one of the harassers.
The employee resigned and was diagnosed with having major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and was bipolar as a result of the treatment she had endured. Winslow admitted negligence and the court awarded a total of $1,360,027 in damages ($380,000 in general damages, $283,942 for economic loss for the period 2010 to 2016 and $696,085 for her future loss of earning capacity until the age of 65).
The case highlights the importance for an appropriate management and HR reaction to issues of bullying and sexual harassment. The only way of effectively ensuring this is to have robust policies, procedures and training in place.