David Jones case puts sexual harassment in spotlight for employers

David Jones is not the only company in hot water over sexual harassment, last week two Airservices Australia employees launched a $1 million plus action over alleged workplace law breaches just hours after an Adelaide business was forced to make a record $466,000 payout to a former employee for sexual harassment.

Sexual HarassmentThe fact is that sexual harassment cases aren’t just for the big boys; the recent scandal which saw David Jones ceo Mark McInnes leave the prestige retailer with a sexual harassment cloud hanging over him is just the tip of the iceberg. All companies of all sizes are potentially vulnerable unless they take steps to educate and inform all their employees and contract workers about their rights and responsibilities.

According to Sarah Jones, a partner in the workplace relations group of Hicksons Lawyers, there are steps that organisations can take to protect their employees and their corporate brands.

“The most important fact for all companies to acknowledge is that harassment of employees is unlawful and that we are seeing the courts take a very dim view of sexual harassment of any type,” said Jones. And the stakes are high.

Last week Employment Services Australia Pty Ltd (ESA) lost its appeal against what is believed to be the biggest ever award of damages in a South Australian discrimination case and will have to pay a former employee $466,000.

In the latest case to come to light last week, two Airservices Australia employees have commenced Federal Court proceedings claiming more than $1 million dollars for breaches of the Sex Discrimination Act, Fair Work Act, Workplace Relations Act and OHS laws.

Jones said that it was important for companies to review their current work practices, policies and guidelines and make clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.

“It also makes sense to practise what you preach. There is no point having policies in place if they are not followed or if the prevailing culture is inconsistent with what your policies say, as is alleged in the Airservices case. Policies must be backed up with training and a zero tolerance culture.”

“Australia I think has reached a turning point – recent cases have thrown into sharp relief the fact that sexual harassment will simply not be tolerated. Companies that want to protect their employees, their brand – and ultimately their financial security need to urgently review their policies and telegraph their clear opposition to any form of harassment to all their employees,” said Jones.

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