An employer has been found vicariously liable for the sexual harassment and assault of a female beauty therapist and ordered to pay $150,000 in damages, after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) found the employer’s response “manifestly” inadequate.
The employee commenced employment at the respondent’s male grooming business as a beauty therapist in January 2018. From the commencement of her employment, the employee was subjected to sexual harassment by a co-worker, including the co-worker allegedly making suggestive comments, slapping the employee’s bottom, and requesting sex with the employee whilst at work. After making a complaint, the employer allegedly told the employer that the co-worker was “just joking”. The employee resigned in November 2018 after the co-worker shoved his face between her breasts.
While the employer did not dispute the employee’s allegations, it did deny being vicariously liable for the conduct of the co-worker on the basis that it took reasonable precautions to prevent him from sexually harassing the employee.
The Tribunal disagreed however, finding that the employer’s response was “manifestly” inadequate given the only precautions taken to prevent sexual harassment was making an employee handbook available electronically. The Tribunal further observed that at no time prior to, or after, the employee’s complaint did the employer implement any educational programs on sexual harassment, monitor the workplace noting it had access to CCTV footage, or take appropriate steps to communicate its sexual harassment policies to employees.
In relation to damages, the Tribunal held that the employee had been subjected to sexual harassment from January 2018, which then cumulated in an “egregious sexual assault” in the workplace. Accordingly, the employee was awarded $150,000 in general damages.