Harassment probe | Worker sacked after discussing his sex life in graphic detail

Worker sacked after discussing his sex life in graphic detail

A worker lost his job after admitting discussing his sex life in graphic detail and calling colleagues “f***ing idiots”, an investigation heard.

Lindsay Swift’s behaviour was ‘tolerated’ by some managers at Highland Pine Products in New South Wales, according to a report by the Fair Work Commission (FCW). But the electrician was sacked in January 2023 for serious misconduct after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him.

Details came to light in an FWC report after Swift raised claims of unfair dismissal.

The FWC outlined several claims against Swift, some he admitted and some he denied.

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  • He admitted to telling a new starter to “leave his brain in the lunchroom” and agreed this was not an acceptable comment.

  • He also admitted discussing sexual exploits with a female colleague and said she also discussed her sex life with him, but denied showing a photo to another employee and/or saying “Look what I rooted (Australian slang for a sexual encounter) on the weekend”.

  • He was also said to have discussed his sex life in graphic detail, sharing descriptions of his sexual encounters.

  • Swift was accused of introducing himself to a new supervisor by saying “My name is Lindsay and I love to root”. He recalled the encounter but denied making the comment, claiming he actually said: “Are you doing any rooting over the weekend?”

  • He agreed that he sometimes “blew up” when asked to respond to machinery breakdowns. He explained that supervisors did not provide him with enough information about the nature of breakdowns

  • He was said to have written notes about “working with muppets” and called some co-workers "f***ing idiots"

The FWC probe said: “The disparaging comments left by Swift… appear to have been tolerated to a degree by Highland Pines, as they were made some years ago and never actioned by relevant managers...”

“The same can be said of calling other employees ‘idiots’ or ‘f***ing idiots,’ which Swift admits occurred in the presence of managers, and swearing in the workplace was common,” it added.

Swift raised claims of unfair dismissal, saying he was the victim of a ‘witch hunt’ by a select group ofemployees which had the objective of seeing him dismissed, or that their complaints were false or artificial in nature.

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However, the FWC still ruled that Highland Pines was within its rights to sack Swift, saying he displayed a “repeated pattern of disparaging and offensive conduct directed towards female employees.” It also ruled Swift “demonstrated a lack of respect” that was “inconsistent” with workplace policies.

“He sexually harassed at least three employees at work. In relation to two of those employees, this conduct continued over a lengthy period. It was serious misconduct and a valid reason for dismissal,” the FWC said.

It added: "The process undertaken by Highland Pines to deal with this conduct in relation to Mr Swift was imperfect, but it was not unfair. Mr Swift had access to support and representation in connection with the dismissal and a meaningful opportunity to respond to the allegations against him."

A fifth of workers have experienced violence and harassment

This incident took place on the other side of the globe but the issue of workplace harassment is affecting employees worldwide.

Recent research uncovered that a fifth of people worldwide (21%) have experienced at least one form of violence and harassment at work in their working lifetime.

More worryingly, the research also found that a majority of those who had experienced violence and harassment at work had experienced it multiple times – 61% in instances of psychological harassment, and 56% and 52% respectively for physical or sexual violence and harassment, highlighting a need for a zero-tolerance approach.

The data features in a new report – Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment – which is based on the 2021 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup. 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their experiences of workplace harassment and violence, as well as the nature and frequency of it.

The report also found that, at a global level, men were fractionally more likely to report experience of workplace violence and harassment than women (22% vs 20%), though its nature varies between the sexes.

While psychological harassment was found to be the most common form experienced by both men and women, it was found that for a third of women (33%) who had experienced violence or harassment, there was a sexual element (compared with for 15% of men).

The survey found that men’s second most common experience was a combination of psychological and physical violence and harassment (accounting for 20% or one in five male experiences), while for women it was sexual violence and harassment.

Employers must be proactive in tackling harassment

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy at Peninsula, points out that ultimately it is the responsibility of all employers to take proactive measures to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace.

Palmer previously told HR Grapevine: “Sadly, sexual harassment is still a very present issue in many workplaces. In fact, recent research has found that almost three-quarters (72%) of female workers have seen or been subject to inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues in the workplace.

Palmer said that, while a robust policy is the first step in preventing misconduct, organisations should also ensure they have a clear, zero-tolerance attitude towards this behaviour. Similarly, workplace training for managers and workers on how to manage, avoid and report inappropriate actions can go a long way in discouraging all forms of sexual harassment in the workplace, as can providing effective support for affected employees.

Palmer went on: “Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission teamed up with UK Hospitality to publish a new action plan and checklist for employers, to help them stop sexual harassment in the workplace. This was created following research which found that most hospitality workers have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, and most found it to be a “normal” part of the job in settings where alcohol is consumed.

“Employers in customer-facing sectors should also keep in mind that harassment may come from third parties so take extra steps to minimise the impact this could have on employees. Failure to adequately address inappropriate behaviours and creating a culture which does not facilitate diversity and inclusion can prove detrimental for organisations; those who don’t may risk tribunal claims, high turnover, and reduced productivity.”

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