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Sexual Harassment and Assault in the Workplace

August 12, 2016

Recent statistics have discovered that sexual harassment in the workplace is at an all-time high with 25% of women and 16% of men experiencing this form of harassment. In July, the Supreme Court ordered WorkCover to pay a family support worker over $1.5 million after she was sexually assaulted by a client within the workplace.

In 2011, the employee of Brisbane Youth Service (BYS) was sexually assaulted by a client who had a history of threatening and sexualised behaviours.  As a result of these behaviours, other employees of BYS had stopped working with her.  BYS knew of the client’s history and failed to provide background information to the worker.  Consequently, BYS was found by the Court to have breached their duty of care to provide a safe place to work for employees.

The support worker had a history of sexual abuse from childhood and due to the assault by the client, had a severe psychiatric reaction resulting in hospitalisation. The worker was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. Since the assault, the worker has also experienced suicidal thoughts, self-harm, inability to return to work and marriage breakdown.

 As outlined in section 305D(1)(b) of the Queensland Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act, the employer was found to be liable for the worker’s injury as the risk of sexual assault by the client was “clearly foreseeable” and the breach “factually caused” the worker’s injury.

The worker was rated in the upper half of the scale for serious mental disorder and consequently was awarded with general damages, past special damages, future special damages, past economic loss, and future economic loss.

She received $65,950 for general damages as psychiatric evidence shows she has an incapacity to work, she has lost pleasure in all activities she used to enjoy, lost her marriage and fears losing her children due to extended periods of hospitalisation.

Past special damages of $314,930.10 and $354 in interest were awarded to the employee as well as future special damages of $327,821.13 for future psychiatrist and psychologist appointments, medication, and future hospitalisation.

The worker is entitled to a total of $274,107.15 for past economic loss, interest and loss of superannuation entitlements. She is then further entitled to future economic loss of $711,595.57 for ceasing earning an income and $78,275.51 for future loss of superannuation entitlements from not being able to work.

This case highlights an example of the penalties that employers are liable for if they do not provide a safe workplace for their employees. If sexual harassment is occurring in the workplace it is best practice to report the action whether it is happening to you or another person. Employees or employers who file a complaint should not worry about being disadvantaged for reporting this behaviour as, under federal legislation, it is a workplace right.

As an employer, introducing a sexual harassment policy and subsequent training of your employees can protect your employees as well as reducing the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

For more information on how to reduce the instances of sexual harassment occurring in your workplace or how to create and implement a Sexual Harassment Policy, please call and speak to one of National Retail Association’s Workplace Advisors on 1800 RETAIL (738 245).

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