Hospital cafe boss fined after sexual harassment

Hospital cafe boss fined after sexual harassment

The boss of two hospital coffee shops and two associated companies have been convicted and fined $290,000 after the sexual harassment of multiple staff.

27 October, 2023

The boss of both stores, was convicted and fined $40,000 in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court yesterday after being convicted on two charges of failing to ensure a workplace under his control was safe and without risks to health.

The boss was the sole director of Whitelom Investments Pty Ltd, which was convicted and fined $110,000 for failing to maintain a workplace that was safe and without risks to health as the operator of the café at a hospital.

The boss was also a joint director of Whitelom Pty Ltd, which operated another café at a different hospital, and was convicted and fined $140,000 for failing to ensure a workplace under its control was safe and without risks to health.

WorkSafe began investigating the workplaces in April 2021 following a complaint regarding persistent sexual harassment by the boss.

The court heard six workers, aged as young as 16, were sexually harassed physically and verbally by their boss and also witnessed other staff being harassed.

The sexual harassment included touching, groping and sexually intrusive and suggestive comments.

An older worker aged in his 20s, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was also accused of groping a young co-worker.

WorkSafe’s investigation found the boss’ behaviour stretched back to 2014, and although the café had an online bullying and harassment policy, it had no contact details to make a report and none of the employees understood who they could complain to.

The court heard it was reasonably practicable for the boss not to sexually harass staff and for Whitelom and Whitelom Investments to provide staff with an avenue for reporting incidents of sexual harassment, other than to the manager.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said she was saddened that such horrendous predatory behaviour persisted in some Victorian workplaces.

“It doesn’t get much lower than a boss who preys on his own young workers, some still in school and starting their first jobs, for his own sexual gratification,” Dr Beer said.

“This case shows why it is essential that employers not only set clear standards but have policies and procedures to ensure they can prevent, respond to and report such behaviours.”

“WorkSafe will not hesitate to prosecute any employer who fails to take their obligation to provide and maintain a safe workplace seriously.”

Earlier this month the older worker entered into a 12 month diversion plan for failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of a fellow staff member, agreeing to write a letter of apology and donate $750 to the Court Fund.

To prevent workplace bullying and harassment employers should:

  • Set clear standards of which behaviours are allowed and which are not in your workplace through training and leaders role modelling desired behaviours.
  • Have policies and procedures to guide a consistent approach to prevent, respond and report workplace bullying and harassment. Discuss and promote these in team meetings and health and safety committee meetings.
  • Encourage reporting. It is important for those who experience or witness workplace bullying or harassment to know who they can talk to, that a report will be taken seriously and that confidentiality will be maintained.
  • Ensure that information about workplace bullying and harassment, including relevant policies and procedures, are part of supervisor training and new employee inductions.
  • All employers should carry out a regular check of the workplace in consultation with employees and health and safety representatives to identify hazards and risks such as signs that bullying or harassment is happening or if there is an increased risk of it happening.

Source: SafeWork Victoria