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Up-skirting? Drink-spiking? Drug-using? A look into today's toxic workplaces

Written by Danielle Williamson, Shine Lawyers Employment Law team.

How is it possible in 2017 for drug-taking, drink-spiking and up-skirting to form part of any Australian workplace? It sounds like a crazy scene from the 1980s 'Wolf of Wall Street' era, but these are the most recent allegations from clients and former employees of Australia's largest investment bank group, Macquarie Group. The bank has been accused of encouraging a toxic workplace environment of chauvinism, widespread drug use and predatory behaviour. Reports have included instances of 'up-skirting' (taking photos up the skirts of unsuspecting women), drink-spiking and even an occasion where a male employee chopped off a woman's ponytail while she was at her desk.

How common is this behaviour?

Even in 2017, statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace are frightening, with a recent survey revealing that around 27% of employees in the public sector in Queensland have witnessed some form of harassment or bullying within the last 12 months. Even more concerning is the fact that around 57% of those bullied did not report the incident. Sadly, this is often because employees are worried if they speak up, they may lose their job or anger the antagonist. The victim tends to feel isolated, with nowhere to turn.

The high costs of harassment

In many cases, this behaviour causes detriment not only to employees, but to businesses due to the extended periods of absence, lost productivity and the potential millions lost in lawsuits. To reduce the risk, it is essential that companies have easily accessible and well-documented protocols on bullying and inappropriate behaviour.


Warning signs

So what are the warning signs of a toxic workplace? While the instances described at Macquarie Bank are obvious indicators of an unhealthy office culture, many are less apparent. Factors such as high rates of turnover, staff conflicts, lack of engagement and high levels of absenteeism may all point to a toxic environment. Employers and HR personnel must ensure they are attentive to these issues and are fostering strong morale in and out of the office.

What can you do?

Generally, it is more appropriate to raise issues concerning workplace bullying or harassment through the appropriate channels within your workplace before taking the matter to an outside body. This affords the others involved a chance to respond, and your employer an opportunity to address the issue.

Complaints of sexual harassment can also be made to the relevant Anti-Discrimination Commission in your State, or the Federal Human Rights Commission. For bullying, or occasions where the harassment has led to adverse action or termination, these grievances can be lodged with the Fair Work Commission.

Shine Lawyers - Your employment law experts

At the end of the day, regardless of the size of the business, the onus rests with the employer to ensure they are providing a safe and secure workplace for all employees. If you are experiencing bullying, harassment or uncomfortable behaviour in your workplace, get in touch with Shine Lawyers' Employment Law team today. We will listen to your story, assess your case and provide tailored advice on your best legal options.

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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: September 5, 2017.

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