Australian Federal Police
(AFP) employee has been awarded compensation after a court ruling found she had been intimidated, bullied and sexually harassed by co-workers.
The woman lodged a claim against three colleagues after a string of incidents which occurred between 2010 and 2013, according to media reports.
Court documents revealed that a male AFP agent made “derogatory, suggestive and sexually explicit and inappropriate comments” towards the claimant, which led her to feel anxious at work.
“[He] would often find a way to touch you; he would stand behind me and breathe quite heavily,” the woman reportedly told the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia (AATA).
She added that a team leader in the crime scene squad bullied her between 2010 and 2011, and that their behaviour towards her included talking behind her back, questioning her professional standards, changing her hours without consent and yelling at her.
According to Fairfax Media, the claimant also alleged that a junior colleague had also bullied her, and had falsely accused her of misusing her corporate credit card.
The woman claimed that the events in question had led her to be diagnosed with an adjustment order in late 2013, as well as recurrent anxiety and depression.
In the cross-examination, Dr Michael Hong is reported to have argued the sexual harassment was “quite a significant factor” in causing the claimant’s mental health issues.
“[She] presented as a woman with a high level of interpersonal sensitivity and personality vulnerability, and this explains why her psychiatric reaction appears so unusual and inordinate in the context of described work issues,” he said.
“It also explains why her psychiatric incapacity appears prolonged for the type of work-related stressors she described.”
In September 2013, the woman visited her GP who reported severe work-related stress, and said that she was unable to maintain her position.
“[She] was very anxious and teary and it was clear to me that going back in the same work environment was detrimental to her mental and physical health,” the GP told the AATA.
In spite of this, the woman returned to work in October, where she was called to a conflict resolution meeting with a colleague. The meeting ended with the claimant walking out, claiming that she felt “trapped”.
AATA deputy president Gary Humphries found that Comcare was liable to pay the woman compensation for an adjustment disorder.
He also found that the AFP had failed to comply with professional standards during the recruitment
of a team leader position, for which the claimant had applied in August 2013.
The court is reported to have heard that the woman was informed of her poor application by a friend on the selection panel prior to the selection process’ conclusion. This led the claimant to believe that someone had tampered with her application.
“The evidence led suggested that it was a breach of AFP protocols for a party to an interview process to be advised of the conduct or outcome of that process before it had officially concluded,” Humphries said.
“The breach was not a serious one, but it was a breach nonetheless.”
A spokesman for the AFP told Fairfax Media that while the force was unable to comment on the case, the organisation was “committed to its members behaving at all times in a manner that upholds the AFP's core values, and the organisation's reputation and integrity”.
“Misconduct issues are dealt with in accordance with the AFP's Professional Standards Framework process, which includes options ranging from counselling, warnings, increased supervision and training activities to criminal charges and employment termination,” he said.