Judge overrules decision that boss slapped worker’s behind ‘in jest’

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The operator of a business in Hamilton has been ordered by a Judicial Settlement judge to pay $5000 to a former employee for slapping her on the bottom.

Ella Newman resigned from The Plant Place in December, alleging that the business’ director Bruce Sanson had “slapped” her on the bottom and sexually harassed her during her two year tenure as a garden assistant.

Initially, the case was taken to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), which found that Sanson’s actions were made “in jest”, and Newman was ordered to pay her employer $5000.

After appealing the decision, Newman was vindicated on Wednesday during a Judicial Settlement Hearing, The Times reported.
During the hearing, an agreement was settled to prevent the case from progressing to an Employment Court hearing.

The settlement states that Sanson will pay Newman $5000, and will pay for an HR advisor to carry out a session about employment practices and sexual harassment in his workplace.

Sanson has also reportedly apologised to Newman.

His written apology stated: “Bruce acknowledges that the slap on Ella's bottom was inappropriate and apologises unreservedly to her for any offence or hurt that it caused her.”

According to Newman’s lawyer Simon Scott, the earlier ruling by the ERA was unjust.

“I was shocked and I've never had so many calls and emails from lawyers expressing their shock and offering to help,” he said. “The determination of the authority got the law wrong.”

He added that he thought more women would feel confident to come forward after witnessing Newman’s perseverance with the case.

Peter Cullen, partner at Cullen employment law firm, previously spoke to HRM about how employers can prepare for circumstances in which a worker might feel offended by inappropriate behaviour.

“Someone with power over someone else should be cautious in their behaviour,” Cullen said. “If in doubt, don’t act. Acceptable behaviour can depend on the nature of the workplace.”
He advised employers to:
  1. Have a policy in place which addresses sexual harassment – make it plain that it will not be tolerated.
  2. Train managers not to behave in a way that could demean other employees – which is what sexual harassment does – and set this example as the employer.
Related articles:

Surgeon puts spotlight on sexual harassment
Worker fired over sexual assault allegations awarded $20K
ERA rules bum slap “fun”

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