Channel Seven ordered to mediate with former employee after affair scandal
Seven West Media (Channel Seven) has been ordered to mediate with former employee, Amber Harrison, to resolve an ongoing employment law dispute. In March, Ms Harrison filed an adverse action claim against Channel Seven under the Fair Work Act, and also separately claimed that Channel Seven had breached her employment contract. Concurrently, Channel Seven launched action in the NSW Supreme Court, pushing for a permanent gag order on Ms Harrison to stop speaking publicly about the company and her relationship with chief executive of Channel Seven, Tim Worner.
Ms Harrison was allegedly involved in an 18 month affair with Mr Worner from 2013 to mid-2014. She claimed that Channel Seven took adverse action against her under section 340 of the Fair Work Act, after her relationship with Mr Worner ended. This claim was based on Channel Seven’s investigation into Ms Harrison’s alleged misuse of a corporate credit card, after a complaint Ms Harrison made to Mr Worner in 2014 that she was suffering from “distress, shame, helplessness, anxiety, and panic attacks”. Ms Harrison claimed that this action altered her role with the company to her prejudice, consequently injuring her in the course of her employment.
Under section 340 of the Fair Work Act, for an adverse action claim to be successful, the employee must prove that an employer took adverse action, and that the action was taken because there was a relevant workplace right exercised. In this case, it is up to the employer to demonstrate that the action was not taken for the prohibited reason alleged. Importantly, the alleged reason does not have to be the only reason for undertaking the adverse action.
Breach of Employment Contract
Ms Harrison also claimed that Channel Seven had breached an implied term in her employment contract to keep and maintain a safe system of work. This is an obligation implied by law for employers to provide a healthy and safe working environment to their employees, as seen in keystone employment law cases such as Cerebos Australia Ltd v Koehler  HCA 15.
Last month, the Federal Court ordered the parties to mediate, despite objections from Channel Seven’s solicitor. This included arguments that Channel Seven had already been in mediation with Ms Harrison twice during the NSW proceedings, and had paid out more than $40 000. In the event that a resolution cannot be reached at mediation, the Fair Work case was ordered to be adjourned until after the NSW proceedings.
Checklist for employers
- Employers must be careful when taking action against an employee;
- Any evidence of alterations to an employee’s role that is detrimental to an employee in response to an employee exercising a workplace right may be considered adverse action;
- If you’re unsure, seek the advice of a solicitor with experience in employment law.
Are you looking for a solicitor in Newcastle to assist you in your legal matter? Want to talk to our experienced commercial lawyers in Newcastle, the Hunter or Sydney? Call us on (02) 4929 7002, email us or complete an enquiry form.
Image: ‘Meeting’ available at Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.