Worker awarded $156,000 after fake ‘sex romp’ prank

by John Hilton25 Jan 2017
A cleaner at Helensvale State School on The Gold Coast has been awarded $156,000 in compensation after his colleagues pretended there had been an orgy in the staffroom.
 
In September 2014, Shane Green said he was traumatised after he found a staffroom room set up “so that it portrayed the aftermath of a sex romp”, according to the judgement published online.

The scene allegedly included a bra, ladies boxer shorts, empty bottles of beer and wine, and condoms with cream in them.

Green cleaned the room and only found out it was a prank two days later when he spoke to his colleagues.

Green's lawyer Bruce Simmonds of Parker Simmonds Solicitors & Lawyers said Green had had to step down from his role and rely on WorkCover after the incident.

"He was horrified and subjected to great emotional stress by this trauma especially when they didn't own up to the joke and left him believing it was real," lawyer Bruce Simmonds said.

"Who could he speak to? Who should he report this to?

"Mr Green would like to resume his job at the school, but he feels humiliated by the experience and right now his future is unclear."

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found the prank amounted to sexual harassment, ordering the State Government and the two staff members to pay the compensation.

HC contacted Helensvale State School for comment and a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Training provided the following statement:
 
“The Department of Education and Training is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of staff.
 
“Every staff member has a right to feel safe at work and not be subjected to inappropriate conduct.  

“As QCAT has found, the type of behaviour reported is not acceptable workplace behaviour and the Department has high expectations of all of its staff to uphold the public sector code of conduct.

“The Department is unable to provide any information on individuals due to privacy reasons.”

Related stories:

Courts awarding larger sums in sexual harassment cases: Lawyers

What you need to know about the Fair Work Act

University launches investigation after ‘promoting’ rapist
 

COMMENTS

  • by Bernie Althofer 27/01/2017 6:38:23 AM

    Cases such as this continue to highlight the need for ongoing face to face workshops where managers and workers can discuss and share their understanding about what constitutes counterproductive behaviours such as sexual harassment. On the face of it, some pranks appear harmless, when the reality is that someone may be offended (as is the situation in this case).

    Unfortunately, in some workplaces, the stock standard presentation that highlights the definition, the reporting and resolution options may prevent or reduce the opportunity to explore individual beliefs and understandings about 'what they can get away with', not realising that these efforts can backfire. Whilst organisations do seem to be taking proactive and preventive action by creating awareness about the need to detect, prevent, report and resolve various behaviours, it also seems that some workers who have completed various mandatory training requirements, still do not understand the implications of their actions.

    In recent times, some discussions have highlighted the gap that exists between the completion of a self paced learning package and what the worker actually understood. Whilst cases like this might be an anomaly, in small organisations it indicates that there is a level of risk exposure that needs to be addressed. There is a 'slippery slope' that exists in relation to workplace behaviour and conduct, particularly when those in managerial or supervisory roles do not 'see' or 'hear' what is going on around them. It can also be an issue for an organisation if everyone 'knows' that the behaviour of one person is 'creepy' and the same behaviour by another person is 'accepted' or 'tolerated'.

    Over the years, there have been a number of 'pranks' involving young workers, and now it seems that others are having the courage to come forward and report those pranks. In some situations, the target may seek advice or support from others in the organisation and make an informed decision based on the information they have been provided with.

    In a number of 'pranks' there will be the potential for breaches of work health and safety, in addition to the issue of sexual harassment. For those who engage in 'pranks', they should consider the potential of penalties being imposed for breaches of work health and safety legislation, in addition to any decisions made regarding the sexual harassment.

    In response to cases such as this, organisations need to ensure that all managers and workers are provided with a summary of the situation (and not necessarily include the names of those involved), and the outcome. Whilst there was an amount of compensation involved in this particular, the full costs that have been incurred would drive the 'cost' up e.g. downtime, lost productivity, investigation, medical/legal expenses, ongoing medical, damage to reputation.

    There is little doubt that in this day and age, there is an increased element of risk involved in workplace pranks. Managers and workers need to ensure that they are conversant with not only the legislation obligations and requirements, but they also need to aware of Court, Commission and Tribunal decisions that have been made.

  • by Lisa HR Practitioner 1/02/2017 9:53:21 AM

    At what point did the "pranksters" think this kind of behaviour is ok? I can't believe this still goes on in modern workplaces.

  • by Marc R Psychologist & Consultant 15/02/2017 4:49:28 PM

    As much as it disappoints me to have to resort to penalties/punishment as a means of changing behaviour - perhaps if the monetary compensation is more routinely levied against the perpetrators of these 'pranks' (as well as the employers) then the message will get through more effectively. Having the behavioural consequence hit the 'hip pocket' directly may ,in reality, add to the effectiveness of other interventions like training and education.

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