Police officer denies sexual harassment allegations, claims he’s ‘socially awkward’

Despite being warned, given extra training, officer still behaved inappropriately towards colleague, says IRC

Police officer denies sexual harassment allegations, claims he’s ‘socially awkward’

The New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) has decided on the case of a police officer removed from service due to sexual harassment allegations, amidst his defense that he is “socially awkward” and has no other intention but to be “friendly.”

The officer was removed from his position as a senior constable with the NSW Police Force. The commissioner of police made the order, and the officer filed for review under the IRC. The allegations against the officer consisted of unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour towards a colleague that became “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

The incident involved the officer making “a number of unsolicited comments” to his colleague “received by her as being of a sexual nature.” It included “repeatedly asking her to ‘go out with him’,” and asking permission to be able to text her “in a private capacity.”

The colleague also alleged that the officer pointed to an abandoned mattress in the police station and remarked, “I should trip you over onto this mattress,” which the colleague interpreted as “inappropriate and sexual.”

Mental health considerations

The officer denied any sexual intent in his conduct. He also submitted a document where he indicated “social and medical factors” to consider relating to his behaviour which said:

  • “I am socially awkward and find it difficult to interact socially with people. I have always struggled to make and keep friends.”
  • “Whilst I do not have a formal diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder), as I stated, I am aware that I am different and attempt to manage this in the best way I know how. I am very mindful of being socially awkward.”
  • “I am aware that I sometime misread visual and verbal communication cues. I do attempt to remain vigilant to this fact. I also find myself avoiding social situations to avoid the awkwardness or conflict. I rarely attend work social gatherings as I feel out of place.”
  • “Being somewhat of a loner, I can sometimes be overzealous when someone extends to me, what I interpret to be friendship.”
  • “There is strong evidence to suggest that I have undiagnosed ASD. Whilst I believe this does not impede me from doing my job … I do believe that it may go some way to explaining my differences in communication styles. This can affect how I interact with others and also how I am perceived.”

Despite the officer’s submissions, he was removed from the police force. Among other reasons, the order stated that the officer’s “repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates when the person has refused similar invitations before” is an example of sexual harassment. The order also rejected the officer’s claim that a medical condition influenced his behaviour.

The IRC found that the employee’s dismissal was not unjust or unreasonable. In its decision, it noted that “despite being warned and given extra training and mentoring,” the officer still behaved inappropriately towards his colleague.

As to his claim that he might be on the autism spectrum, the IRC said that his evidence “falls short of establishing that [his] condition caused him to sexually harass [his colleague] after he had previously been demoted and warned.”

Thus, the IRC ruled that the commissioner of police was correct in upholding the standard that all police officers should “act professionally at all times, with ethics and integrity, and in accordance with the law.”

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