A recent case highlights the costly consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace. An employed accountant complained of being sexually harassed by a contract worker at her workplace.
She claimed that the perpetrator had both verbally and physically harassed her, which triggered post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric illnesses. As a result, she claimed she was unable to work and sought damages for, amongst other things, her loss of earning capacity.
At the time of the alleged sexual harassment, she went to the Police with her allegations. The Police then recorded conversations between her and the perpetrator which then formed part of a body of evidence at the Court hearing.
She was able to prove that verbal and physical sexual harassment had been perpetrated against her and an award of $476,163 was made against the perpetrator personally. The damages award included in excess of $250,000 for lost earnings.
This decision highlights the possible ramifications that arise from a sexual harassment complaint, particularly the significant financial penalties that may be awarded against a perpetrator.
It is also relevant to note that the perpetrator was liable even though he was a “contractor” and not a fellow employee. Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is the commonality of the “workplace” in relation to the harassment that is relevant; under the legislation “workplace” means a place at which the participants work even though the participants are not employed by the same employer.
An employer could also be held liable if they failed to have any safeguards in place to protect their workers or if the failed to adequately deal with any complaint; and this applies across the board to any safety issue, not just to complaints of sexual harassment.