'Harsh realities' - workplace case studies from hreoc

Cases

'Harsh realities' - workplace case studies from hreoc

A set of case studies recently released by the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner reveals that Australian workplaces still have a long way to go in terms of eliminating sexual discrimination and sexual harassment against women.

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A set of case studies recently released by the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner reveals that Australian workplaces still have a long way to go in terms of eliminating sexual discrimination and sexual harassment against women.

The Commissioner has chosen to depict in detail the unsavory and at times appalling circumstances that have resulted in everyday working women making complaints under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The case studies are taken from genuine complaints that have been conciliated by the Commission. Names have been changed to ensure confidentiality.

The case studies are a useful guide to employers, because they provide examples of the amounts of compensation employers have typically been required to pay when they have not taken appropriate steps to prevent discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

Some examples taken from the case studies are:

  • A 16 year old woman who was employed as a cashier in a fruit and vegetable shop was indecently assaulted and sexually harassed by a male co-worker. On one occasion the male led her out of sight of other co-workers, grabbed her, kissed her on the mouth, and placed his hand under her clothing and touched her body. The woman went to the police, and the co-worker was eventually convicted of aggravated indecent assault and required to undergo weekend detention. The woman also brought a claim of sexual harassment against the employer, as the employer had neglected to provide any sexual harassment information or training and consequently failed to provide a safe working environment. The matter was settled at conciliation for $16,000. The co-worker paid $5,500 and the employer paid $10,500.
  • A woman who worked in a bar alleged that the bar manager, a male, sexually harassed her. She said that he touched her gratuitously and intimately and placed his hand between her legs. The woman complained to the manager of the hotel who then warned the bar manager of his behaviour. No other action was taken and the woman became distressed and uncomfortable at work. She eventually took stress leave and said that as a result of the harassment she had become claustrophobic and often felt unsafe in public. The woman's complaint of sexual harassment settled, with the bar manager paying $4,000 and the employer paying $10,000.
  • When a trainee supermarket warehouse manager advised her supervisor that she was pregnant, she was told to go and speak to a senior manager. The senior manager expressed shock that the woman was pregnant and said that because he could not get continuity of service from someone in her situation she would be transferred to the position of register operator. He also stated that it was company policy to transfer all pregnant workers to light duties. The woman found that shortly after commencing her alternative light duties, her hours were progressively reduced until finally she was offered only four hours per week. The woman felt that her prospects of becoming a full time employee were diminished after she was transferred. The woman made a complaint of pregnancy discrimination. The conciliation conference resulted in her being paid $7500 in compensation.

Copies of the Harsh Realities case studies are available from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, tel: (02) 9284 9600.

 

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