TELSTRA has won the right to sack a young female employee over an alcohol-fuelled after-hours sex romp, reigniting debate about the line between work and private lives.
The Industrial Relations Commission yesterday upheld Telstra's appeal against an earlier ruling that Carlie Streeter be reinstated and paid compensation for being unjustly sacked following the romp last February.
Ms Streeter is considering appealing to the Federal Court, with her lawyer last night describing the 2-1 decision by a commission full bench as "un-Australian".
"The client is very aggrieved by the decision," Ms Streeter's lawyer, Kelly Durant, told The Australian. "If (it) stands, it really is a serious licence for employers to intrude on the private lives of their employees and it's very un-Australian.
"What this decision says is employers can control and regulate the private lives of employees, which is completely unfair. At the end of the day, what you do at two o'clock on a Sunday morning is really nothing to do with your employer."
Telstra released a brief statement last night in which it said it was pleased the full bench had upheld the corporation's appeal.
Telstra dismissed Ms Streeter last March, claiming she sexually harassed three female colleagues by having sex metres from where they were sleeping on a hotel room floor.
She was accused of sexually harassing another female employee by being naked in the hotel bath with two Telstra male workers. Telstra also claimed she dishonestly answered questions during a subsequent company investigation into the incident.
The incidents occurred in the early hours of February 25 following a belated Christmas party for staff from the Telstra retail outlet at Westfield Shopping Town in Miranda in Sydney's south. In August last year, commission senior deputy president Jonathon Hamberger ruled that Ms Streeter had been unjustly sacked.
Although the employees were upset by Ms Streeter's conduct, he found it was not enough to constitute sexual harassment.
Mr Hamberger, a former Howard government employment advocate, ruled the sexual conduct took place in a hotel room with the lights out in the early hours of the morning, when Ms Streeter thought the other employees were asleep. He ordered her to be reinstated and awarded compensation.
But the majority full bench decision upheld that Telstra was justified in sacking Ms Streeter because of her "dishonesty" during the subsequent investigation into her conduct.
Interviewed by Telstra management in February last year, Ms Streeter initially denied engaging in sexual activity, then said she could not really remember and that she might have been affected by alcohol "to the point she could not remember anything". In subsequent evidence to the commission, Ms Streeter conceded she had sex with a male employee but had previously denied it because she was embarrassed.
Mr Hamberger found that most of Telstra's concern related to her alleged sexual harassment of employees. He said the conduct about which Ms Streeter "lied" was of an inherently personal nature, and it was not enough to destroy the necessary relationship of trust between an employer and employee.
However, the full bench upheld Telstra's argument that Mr Hamberger erred in finding that Ms Streeter's dishonesty did not constitute a valid reason for her dismissal.
Ewin Hannan News.com.au January 25, 2008