Corrections ordered to pay $7000 over handling of sexual harassment case

By Mike Dinsdale -
A former Whangarei Department of Corrections worker was awarded $7000 after it was found that the department failed to properly investigate her sexual harassment claims. Photo / Andrew Labett
A former Whangarei Department of Corrections worker was awarded $7000 after it was found that the department failed to properly investigate her sexual harassment claims. Photo / Andrew Labett

A former Corrections worker has been awarded $7000 after claiming she was harrassed by a man who crawled under her desk and touched her inappropriately.

The Whangarei woman took the Department of Corrections to the Employment Relations Authority, claiming unjustified disadvantage after she said she'd endured an unsafe workplace and claiming she was then unjustifiably dismissed.

The department was found to have failed in its requirement to properly investigate her sexual harassment claims.

The authority heard that, in March 2010, she complained an employee made several advances of a sexual nature towards her. She said the man crawled under her desk and touched her, including on the buttocks and the inside of her thigh.

The woman, who worked as a Whangarei senior community work supervisor overseeing offenders, also claimed that starting from August 2009, her then-managers mishandled her mental health issues, which affected her work performance.

In May 2011, she walked out on her job, claiming her resignation was engineered by the department. In a decision released last week, the ERA partly upheld her claims, first lodged in July 2012.

Authority member Eleanor Robinson found the woman was disadvantaged in her workplace because Corrections did not provide her with a safe workplace while it investigated her complaints.

Ms Robinson said despite the woman's several documented complaints, management did not take practicable steps to stop the harassment after the first reported act. Corrections' mishandling of her complaints caused her distress, suffering and anxiety, the authority found.

The department was ordered to pay her $7000.

The woman's other claims, that Corrections disadvantaged her by breaching health and safety obligations toward her and her constructive dismissal claim, were not upheld.

Ms Robinson found the woman was not constructively dismissed and voluntarily resigned.

She found once the department became aware of her health issues, which were aggravated by the alleged harassment, it took appropriate measures to support her.

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