Hospital cafe boss fined after sexual harassment

November 6, 2023

[Trigger Warning: 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.

The boss of both stores, was convicted and fined $40,000 in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court 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: “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.

This is valid as of 6th November 2023.

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