A court has awarded a Sydney woman $733,723 in damages after it found she was repeatedly sexually harassed, intimidated and bullied by her employer.
New South Wales District Court Judge Leonard Levy found insurance firm WD Gelle Insurance & Finance Brokers breached its duty of care towards the employee, Janette Trolan.
Trolan told the court her boss had put his hand up her dress and told her he wanted to have sex with her because he thought she needed a baby.
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It was also alleged her boss had turned up at her house uninvited and sought to obtain entry to her home on the day she left work on workers’ compensation.
Judge Levy found the actions of Trolan’s boss, Warren Gelle, were uninvited, unprovoked and unwelcome.
“He was, in effect, her employer as he was the controlling mind of the defendant company which had the duty of care to provide and maintain a safe workplace,” said Levy in his judgment.
SmartCompany contacted WD Gelle Insurance & Finance Brokers, and managing director Warren Gelle said the company would be appealing the decision.
Emma Starkey, senior associate employment lawyer at Maurice Blackburn, told SmartCompany the message for small business employers from this case is to keep sexual harassment in the front of mind.
“I think the message for small business owners is they have an obligation to provide a safe workplace, and that includes a workplace free from sexual harassment,” says Starkey.
Starkey says while there is no “one-size-fits-all solution”, employers must “take proactive steps to stamp out sexual harassment”. These could include having a well-communicated sexual harassment policy, training staff and implementing mediation.
There has been a recent jump in the compensation figure awarded to victims of workplace sexual harassment, according to Starkey, owing to a number of high profile cases in the federal court.
“It reflects an increased awareness by the court about the impact sexual harrasment can have on an individual.”