The advent of the #MeToo movement in late 2017 has cast a spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace and has empowered many who have experienced inappropriate workplace behaviour to voice their experiences.
This movement has without question reached Australian shores and has resulted in the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment led by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
For some employers, these recent developments have led to proactive changes to workplace culture and policies. Additionally, many other employers are reporting a marked increase in complaints, in relation to both recent and historical conduct, and are therefore grappling with workplace investigations and possible dismissals of alleged wrongdoers.
This was the case for the management of One Harvest, a Melbourne-based company, who elected to summarily dismiss a packer who approached a female co-worker and asked her to kiss him and making lewd comments to the same co-worker and to another colleague.
The packer maintained that the request was a joke, and that he believed the co-worker thought nothing of it and made an unfair dismissal claim to the Fair Work Commission. Ultimately, the Commission upheld his dismissal for serious misconduct, declaring “there is no place for bawdy offensive alpha-male behaviour in the workplace”.
While the Commission found that “an employee should not have to be told to treat his fellow co-workers civilly”, and despite the recent positive developments, employers are continuing to contend with inappropriate workplace behaviour and the complexities of managing sexual harassment complaints, particularly where there are no apparent witnesses to alleged events.
This month HR Legal is conducting face to face seminars around managing sexual harassment in the #MeToo age. For more information, click here.