Employer Liable: Failure to Investigate Sexual Harassment Claim

A Queensland tribunal recently found an employer was liable after it failed to properly investigate a sexual harassment claim brought by one of its employees. (McCauley v Club Resort Holdings Pty Ltd (No 2) [2013] QCAT 243 (13 May 2013))

The case involved a sexual harassment claim made by a food and beverage attendant against a chef with whom she worked. The attendant claimed the chef had made derogatory comments to her over a number of days and made growling noises in her ear and around her neck.

The tribunal was very unimpressed with the way in which the investigation was conducted. The HR Manager who conducted the investigation was criticised for:

  • Failing to obtain a full account of events from the attendant.
  • Not putting the attendant’s account to the chef (the first time her version of events was put to him was at the hearing).
  • Not advising the attendant that an investigator had been appointed.
  • Not interviewing other witnesses said to be present when some of the derogatory comments were made.

The employer’s response to the complaint and its subsequent investigation were described as “inept and unprofessional”, and the employer was ordered to pay the attendant $35,490 by way of compensation.

Take claims of workplace harassment seriously

This unfortunate example serves as a reminder for employers when dealing with a complaint by an employee:

  • Ensure you have clearly communicated workplace policies that set out what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
  • Have a clearly communicated complaints process in place to deal with complaints about breaches of these policies.
  • Consistently follow the complaints process.

You cannot always control how your employees behave; but if you fail to follow up complaints of harassment in a professional manner, it could cost you dearly.

Christine Broad, Solicitor, BlandsLaw

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