The Hertz hire-car company is being sued by a former employee, who claims she was sexually harassed, including being groped, and called a ‘slut’ by one of her male colleagues.
The woman is seeking damages and costs in the Federal Court, claiming management did not stop the conduct after she made complaints.
The woman joined the company in 2010, first working at its city office in Melbourne.
In 2016, she was transferred to the Hertz office at Melbourne Airport, where she says the sexual harassment began.
In court documents, the woman alleges the male colleague would invade her personal space by frequently standing very close to her when they were talking, and that he would sometimes put his hands on her shoulders.
The woman said that she tried to use distracting words in an attempt to diffuse the situation.
The statement of claim also alleges “The (colleague) made no attempt to conceal his conduct from other employees.
“The conduct occurred within the presence of other staff members rostered on at various times and in various branches … at the Melbourne Airport.
“The applicant tried to gauge the reaction of other employees to the inappropriate conduct, however no other staff commented on it.”
The woman also alleges that she was groped by the man during a night shift when the two were rostered on together alone.
“During the shift, the second respondent made unwelcome sexual advances to the applicant and sexually assaulted the applicant,” the statement of claim states.
The woman says she made it clear the sexual advances were not welcome.
Hertz failed to stop the harassment
The worker says that when she reported the man’s inappropriate behaviour, a manager told her that it was not acceptable, and that she would “have a word with him”.
As time went on, the man’s behaviour towards the woman became angry, according to the court documents.
“In July 2016 the second respondent told the applicant to “f— off” in an aggressive tone,” the statement of claim states.
“In March 2017 the second respondent called the applicant a ‘slut’.”
The woman took annual leave immediately following that incident, and did not return to work.
She claims that her mental health has been impacted as a result of the harassment, and is now suffering depression, anxiety, and a loss of confidence.
What the experts say
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director from Discrimination Claims said companies have a responsibility to act when they receive a complaint of sexual harassment.
“When a worker makes a complaint of sexual harassment, it should be treated extremely seriously by management,” he said.
“It is important to commence an investigation to establish the facts surrounding the allegations – and that investigation must involve speaking to all parties, and giving any alleged perpetrator, or perpetrators, an opportunity to respond to claims being made about their behaviour.”
Mr Heffernan recommends businesses seek immediate legal advice to assist with a workplace investigation that involves serious allegations like sexual harassment.
“If a company mishandles a complaint, then they leave themselves wide open to legal action, and risk having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in compensation to a victim,” he said.
Mr Hefernan urged all businesses to have clear policies in place surrounding sexual harassment.
“All employees should be made aware of those policies, and the behaviour that is expected of them in the workplace,” he said.
“It’s also good practice to organise regular sexual harassment training for management and staff to minimise the risk of this sort of unlawful conduct happening in the first place,” he said.
Mr Heffernan is part of Discrimination Claims’ expert team of industrial advocates and employment lawyers who specialise in sexual harassment claims and who can assist employees and employers investigate and manage allegations of serious misconduct.
If you have experienced sexual harassment, you may be entitled to compensation.
For help, please call our expert team at Discrimination Claims today on
1300 853 837
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