Legal

Coles manager fired for allegedly inappropriately touching and whispering in co-worker’s ear loses appeal bid

Matthew Elmas /

A fired Coles manager who allegedly inappropriately touched a 17-year-old co-worker and whispered “good evening” in her ear has lost a bid to be reinstated after having his conduct slammed as “odd” and “obsessive”.

The 52-year-old worker, a former deputy manager at Coles Moranbah in regional Queensland, faced 39 allegations of inappropriate conduct by multiple women at a Fair Work Commission Hearing in Brisbane last week.

It was alleged he liked to stand in extremely close physical proximity to female colleagues “within roughly 10 to 15 centimetres” of one worker’s face.

In one instance, a 17-year-old worker told the commission her manager allegedly placed his hand on the small of her back and whispered words to the effect of “good evening”.

The minor, who said the manager made her feel anxious and frightened, told the commission this behaviour repeated the next day, after which she was prompted to make a formal complaint.

A different 23-year-old employee told the commission the manager made unwelcome remarks about her tattoos and piercings, requesting to become her friend on Facebook multiple times and buying her flowers.

The manager appears to have had some understanding that touching colleagues in the workplace could have been inappropriate. In a separate allegation heard by the commission, it was alleged he approached a worker from behind, touching her shoulder before saying: “Whoops, sorry, I’m not allowed to touch anyone past the elbow, please don’t tell anyone.”

The manager denied the allegations, arguing there was “insufficient evidence” to substantiate the claims made against him.

But Fair Work Commissioner Jennifer Hunt upheld Coles’ decision to fire the worker, finding his termination was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

Hunt cited the #MeToo movement in her judgement, praising one of the 17-year-old witnesses for coming forward.

“Noting that the ‘#MeToo movement’ commenced gaining traction in late-2017, it was brave and entirely appropriate for [the witness] to come forward with her allegations and allow them to be investigated,” she said.

“Of course victims of workplace sexual harassment of both sexes have come forward with allegations for scores of years, but in the year 2018, the encouragement to do so, and facilitation of inquiry was there, at least in this workplace.”

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].

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