Just ask David Jones…
Despite being outlawed for 25 years, sexual harassment in the workplace remains an ongoing problem in Australia not just for employees but also for employers.
The Sex Discrimination Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace not just during work hours but also work related activities such as training courses, conferences, field trips, work functions and office Christmas parties.
Can employers be liable?
Employers can be held liable for acts of sexual harassment committed by their employees if it can be shown they did not take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the sexual harassment occurring. ‘Reasonable steps’ include implementing adequate and effective procedures and policies to prevent and deal with sexual harassment.
The David Jones case – what happened?
Intense media scrutiny surrounded the case of a former David Jones employee who sued the entire board of David Jones, and its former CEO Mr Mc Innes, for sexual harassment in 2010.
Ms Fraser-Kirk alleged that Mr McInnes made unwelcome comments of a sexual nature and unwelcome sexual advances towards her at a number of work related functions. Ms Fraser-Kirk claimed she informed David Jones management on more than one occasion about Mr McInnes’ inappropriate behaviour, however nothing was done.
While Ms Fraser-Kirk reached a confidential out of court settlement with David Jones and Mr McInnes reportedly worth around $850,000.00, she initially sought damages in the sum of $37 million. While many regarded her damages claim as fanciful, the case certainly put employers on notice of the potentially grave financial implications of failing to take sexual harassment in the workplace seriously.
The negative publicity for David Jones was enormous.
Know your rights
Only a small number of people who experience sexual harassment at work make formal complaints. This may be due to a lack of understanding as to what constitutes sexual harassment.
Whether you are faced with a claim of sexual harassment, need to implement a suitable policy, or want help to deal with a situation in which you have been sexually harassed…
you can contact Elspeth Pope on (02) 4324 7699.