Employment and Migration Blog

What do David Jones and the NSW State of Origin team have in common? Lessons on discrimination and harassment

Posted by on 10 Dec 2010

Within the space of a week, both have been rocked by scandals, “out of the blue” according to media reports, arising from “conduct unbecoming” – abuse based on race in one case, and sexual harassment by a senior employee of a subordinate in the other.

Other common features include:
  •  the offender was a “star”, who did not follow ordinary rules of acceptable behaviour
  • the incidents which have hit the media were only “out of the blue” because no-one had complained before
  • in both cases, it seems from media reports that the incidents were in fact part of a history of similar conduct, or at least conduct which should have rung alarm bells
  • it seems likely that no-one complained before because the offenders were powerful people and stars in the organisation, so that complaining would take some courage
  • the individuals involved have incurred substantial penalties, as well as loss of reputation
  • both organisations have suffered dreadful PR and severe loss of focus, and Timana Tahu’s departure from the Blues illustrates how staff turnover can arise from undesirable behaviour
  • at least for DJs, compensation claims by the first complainant, and others, seem likely.

You might think “There but for the grace of God goes my organisation”. However, as with OH&S, there is much which can be done to identify (potentially) discriminatory behaviour, and limit the risks, although it is impossible to eliminate risk altogether.

In these two cases, it seems that there would have been occasions or opportunities for someone in authority to give feedback to, counsel or warn the offenders. That sometimes requires courage in the face of other risks, but is essential if risky behaviour is to be halted.

 

It is not enough to have systems (policies, procedures) in place, essential though they are. It is not enough to do training on those systems, once. Having a culture of compliance means treating those systems as an ongoing project, with particular emphasis on trouble spots, usually people who are trouble, despite the positives they bring to the organisation.

 If you require assistance in developing and/or implementing employment policies in your workplace, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment Law Team:

Stephen Booth, Principal
P: 9895 9222
E: sbooth@colemangreig.com.au

Anna Ford, Lawyer
P: 9895 9233
E: aford@colemangreig.com.au