What happened in this case?
The worker was employed as a beauty therapist for Hebeich Pty Ltd t/a Man Oh Man, a male grooming business, from January 2018 to November 2018.
The worker alleged that during her short employment, her colleague had engaged in a range of inappropriate conduct that included unwelcome physical contact, making suggestive comments, requests, jokes and noises. This course of harassment then culminated in a sexual assault.
The worker resigned from her employment following this assault and made a claim to VCAT that she had been sexually harassed, seeking damages from her former employer.
Why was the employer liable?
VCAT accepted that the worker had been sexually harassed and that Hebeich was vicariously liable for the harassment, because it had not taken reasonable precautions to prevent the harassment.
While Hebeich had provided its employees with electronic access to a 100-page handbook which contained a sexual harassment policy and a complaints-handling procedure, this was not sufficient for Heibeich to avoid liability for the harassment.
This was due to Hebeich’s failure to:
- provide handbook-specific training, or follow up on whether employees had actually read or understood the handbook; and
- implement reasonable precautions to prevent further sexual harassment (and the assault), despite the worker complaining about the harassment on two occasions.
The worker was awarded $150,000 in damages, to compensate her for the loss, injury and damage that she suffered as a result of the sexual harassment. Read our previous article here for the recent trends in increasing damages awards.
What do employers need to do?
The case highlights the importance of employer’s obligations to take reasonable steps to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.
Reasonable steps include:
- conducting appropriate and regular workplace sexual harassment training;
- implementing appropriate policies and procedures on bullying, discrimination and harassment and ensuring employees have read and understood these policies;
- monitoring behaviour of staff to ensure everyone meets the expected standards of behaviour;
- responding promptly and appropriately to complaints.
If you require assistance in ensuring your business meets its obligations to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, including reviewing your current policies or conducting appropriate workplace behaviour training, HR Legal can assist.