A female employee has been awarded more than $300,000 by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) after she was sexually assaulted by a fellow male employee.
The employees worked for a hotel company. Both she and the male employee were sharing a hotel apartment (which the HR department was aware of) when the sexual assault took place. The male employee worked as a caretaker at the hotel at which both employees were staying and was on-call between the hours of 10:00pm and 6:00am, during which time the sexual assault occurred.
The female employee subsequently suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses. She also developed sleeping problems, an inability to drive and a loss of personal interests.
She later sought compensation from the employer, on the basis the employer was vicariously liable for the actions of the male employee.
The QCAT held that the employer was vicariously liable, finding that:
but for her employment, the female employee would not have been at the hotel at the time the sexual assault took place;
the sexual assault occurred during the course of the male employee’s employment for the employer.
In rejecting the employer’s defence that it could not take reasonable steps to prevent the assault from occurring, the QCAT was critical of the employer for failing to have an anti-discrimination policy or education program for employees in place.
The male employee and the employer were ordered to pay the female employee a total of $313,361.10 in compensation.
What does this mean for employers?
This case highlights that Courts and Tribunals are willing to award significant amounts in compensation to employees affected by harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
have anti-discrimination and harassment policies in place (including regular reviews);
educate employees on such policies and their conduct at work;
have processes and procedures in place to prevent these situations arising and to address these situations if and when they occur.