If there was any doubt, it’s now settled that building common areas such as lifts, corridors and toilets are not lawless zones, where people are free to sexually harass and discriminate one another with impunity.
In a recent decision, the Federal Court found a contractor to have sexually harassed an employee of the business to which he was contracted. Clearly grasping at straws, as part of his defence, the self- represented contractor argued that the scope of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SD Act) did not extend to the building’s common areas such as its corridors and lifts, where some of the unlawful conduct occurred.
In perhaps the least surprising decision of the year, the Court rejected the argument saying that the objectives of the SD Act would be significantly undermined if the meaning of “workplace” was confined to the precise space where staff actually performed work. Further harassing conduct by the contractor that occurred over drinks at a nearby bar after work was also found to have had a sufficient connection with the workplace to be captured by the SD Act.
The decision also confirms what we already knew which is that the SD Act is not limited to conduct between employees as it extends to other “workplace participants” such as contractors.
Clearly unimpressed with the contractor’s conduct, and his somewhat embarrassing defence, the Court ordered that he pay over $466,000 in damages to the employee, including $110,000 for her pain and suffering.