There is significant confusion among people about the type of behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment. Despite being outlawed for over 25 years, sexual harassment remains a problem in Australia, many sexually harassed/abused people, particularly women, are still reluctant to take action!
Are you being sexually harassed at work? Take action!
Did you know that just about 27% of workers report they have been sexually harassed in their workplace?! (A 2008 Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey showed that 22% of women and 5% of men have been sexually harassed in the workplace).
One would think that after increased publicity and the tough legislation, sexual harassment/abuse would not be so prevalent in the workplace.
Incredibly many sexually harassed/abused people, particularly women, are still reluctant to take action! According to the literature this may be due because these women may feel that they are in a very vulnerable position (not safe to complain) or don’t want to involve police .
Physical behaviour such as unwelcome touching or hugging or non-physical behaviour such as unwelcome sexually explicit emails, sexually suggestive jokes or intrusive questions about a person’s personal life may amount to sexual harassment.
Are you being sexually harassed/abused at work? You CAN and SHOULD take ACTION.
You can take action to stop sexual harassment/abuse and even claim compensation to get you back on your feet without getting sacked from work and without the need for calling the police.
We have heard from a number of female workers who have been sexual harassed at work.
One such a woman explained to us recently that on several (at least 5) occasions, her boss propositioned her. Yet despite rejecting his “advances” repeatedly, her boss continued to touch her [inappropriately]. We advised her to see a doctor immediately, report the boss to the police (with the doctor), get a workcover certificate, seek treatment (i.e. psych) and engage a lawyer ASAP. She got her workcover claim approved in record time, weekly pay (for being off work) and her medical bills were also covered through WorkCover. She is currently pursuing legal action.
There are some practicable legal options available
For starters, you can and should consider
- Reporting the incident at work (boss/management/HR)
- Seeing your treating doctor (GP) immediately – consider a workcover claim – time off work and seek treatment
- Contacting your union or delegate/rep;
- Contacting the (your state)Victoria Police and report the incident and the offender (take a support person with you, i.e. a friend, your GP, psychologist etc)
- Contacting the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (‘VEOHRC’) on 1300 292 153 (free and confidential) – (or similar in your state)
- The Human Rights Division of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘VCAT’) on 9628 9900 or toll free on 1300 079 413 for country callers (- or similar in your state)
- Getting a lawyer
As for legal options you can consider:
- Lodging a WorkCover claim – for payment of medical expenses, weekly pay and potentially a lump sum (i.e.permanent psych impairment)
- Lodging a Victims of Crime claim- for the same reasons.
- Applying to VCAT (Human Rights) or to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission for resolution of your discrimination claim (or similar in your state)
- Suing the offender – either under the Sentencing Act or Common Law. If the offender is charged and convicted, they can be ordered to pay you lump sum compensation.
- Remedies also exist under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and the Fair Work Act 2009 (obviously such claims would go to the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court).
Sexual harassment record payout
In 2010, a Full Federal Court has upheld a record $466,000 sexual harassment payout to a South Australian woman, who was sacked after she complained about the lewd and sleazy comments and text messages she received.
The woman, a Ms P, is a 42-year-old single mother of 2 children who commenced work with Employment Service of Australia (ESA) to be employed as a building consultant with Hickinbotham Homes (Homes) in January 2005.
The Court had found that this poor woman was repeatedly sexually harassed while working with Hickinbotham Homes, and, then, was sacked after she complained.
At the Hearing, the Court accepted that workers of Hickinbotham had made comments about her breasts; that she had received numerous emails requesting sex from male colleagues, that she had received a mobile picture message depicting a woman giving a man oral sex and a text message, ‘U have 2 b better’; and had received unwanted physical contact.
The employer (ESA) had the guts to appeal the ruling, stating they had been unfairly punished because some of the messages had been sent by workers when they were off-duty -WTF!
A Federal Court Full Bench,thankfully, dismissed the sickening appeal, ruling the initial judgment was without error and also dismissed the company’s attempt to have new evidence introduced (they wanted to use an old alleged Centrelink fraud charge on the woman)
The judges noted:
who was sexually harassed; and
subjected to a robust work environment that she could not tolerate; and
had complained of each such treatment;
such that she was considered an impediment to the smooth running of ESA’s business.
… It is apparent from the primary Judge’s reasoning that he did not consider that a male would be considered by ESA to have those characteristics. It was necessarily because she was a female that she was in that position. His Honour found that Mr Hickinbotham, and therefore ESA, would not have taken the same approach to a male who was sexually harassed and had complained. That is, he would not have considered that male to be an impediment to the smooth running of the business. It was all of those factors that resulted in the termination of her employment. The primary Judge found that she was dismissed by reason of those factors, all of which followed from her sex …’
The employer (ESA) was also ordered to pay 90% of the legal costs incurred for the appeal.
You can read the full case here: Employment Services Australia Pty Ltd v Poniatowska  FCAFC 92 (27 July 2010) and Poniatowska v Hickinbotham  FCA 680 — 23 June 2009
Somewhat related posts
- Physical & sexual violence against women within family and in the workplace – Vic Police Chief
- A case of extreme harassment by law firm principal
- Injured clerk sexually harassed by magistrate and harassed by workcover – horror story