Let's say you're a corporate executive travelling
overseas and after a day's hard work you head off to the local
watering hole with colleagues based in this foreign hot spot. You
have a few convivial drinks, then a few more, and you loosen up.
You're a long way from home and make a few compliments of the
appearance of the attractive junior assistant who came along for
the social drinks.
However, given your senses are somewhat dulled, you misread the
signals you get back. Your advances are unwelcome. You persist. A
suggestive comment is rejected. Your hand lands in the wrong place.
You make a fumbled attempt to embrace or kiss.
You should have known better and remembered that this was a work
trip. One of your colleagues should have stepped in to head you off
and disentangle the junior employee. But neither happened and you
are now potentially in big trouble under the sexual harassment
rules of Australian workplace laws.
Being overseas and having a few too many in a pub is no excuse
for such behaviour whether it be New York, London, Paris or, yes,
Hong Kong. It doesn't matter if you are a corporate executive,
scientist, academic or yes, a politician. And we recently saw what
happened to an over-friendly government minister due to his
behaviour towards a junior female employee in a Hong Kong bar.
Workplace law specialist Nathan Luke of Stacks Law Firm warns
that if you are in a senior position making unwelcome sexual
overtures to a person in a junior position you are abusing your
position of power over them.
"It doesn't matter whether you are in the workplace, at
a work function outside the office – and that includes
Christmas parties and social events – or in a bar overseas,
exploiting your position of power over another amounts to sexual
harassment and can breach workplace laws or companies' codes of
conduct," Mr Luke said.
"So long as the harassment takes place with a work
colleague at a place or event associated with your workplace then
it can be workplace harassment. Being drunk or jet lagged is no
Mr Luke says this also applies to bullying and abuse that
humiliate or embarrass work colleagues. He warns the courts have
supported the sacking of employees who breach workplace rules in a
hotel room many hours after the office party ended. "The old
adage that what happens on tour stays on tour no longer applies
when it comes to workplace harassment or bullying. Even online
harassment is now open to legal action."
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
Some comments from our readers… “The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable” “I often find critical information not available elsewhere” “As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).