Damages in sex discrimination claims
The 2014 landmark decision in the Australian Federal Court, Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty and Tucker demonstrates an important shift in the assessment of damages in sexual harassment and sex discrimination cases, In that case, the complainant was awarded AUS$100,000 in general damages. Historically, there has been an accepted range of damages in sexual discrimination cases of between $12,000 and $20,000. At first instance, the complainant was awarded $18,000 – well within the accepted range. However, on appeal, the Court noted that the pre-existing damages range did not reflect "prevailing community standards", and suggested that the amount of damages will depend more heavily on the loss of enjoyment, psychological distress and pain suffered by the complainant. Given the potential for higher damages awards, and that an employer can be vicariously liable for the conduct of its employees (as was the case in Oracle), employers should ensure they have clear policies in place regarding appropriate workplace behaviour, which are adapted to the Australian marker and refer to Australian legislation. Employers should also ensure their managers and employees receive regular training on these issues.
2014 also saw changes in legislation relating to bullying – employees can now seek orders from the Fair Work Commission to stop bullying occurring in the workplace. The number of bullying claims gradually increased in 2014, and are expected to continue increasing in 2015. There are often high people, reputational and, of course, financial costs associated with bullying claims. About 70% of bullying claims arise against managers in the context of performance management. This means that organisations should not only focus on training managers to performance manage properly, but also train staff about bullying generally, and ensure their workplace bullying policy is up to date.
The Australian government will be reviewing its controversial paid parental leave scheme early in 2015. The scheme has faced opposition in the Senate and remains unpopular with several senior members of the government, despite the Prime Minister previously making changes to the proposed scheme. The Prime Minister has stated that the scheme will be re-worked into a "holistic families package" with savings redirected to child care.