Topless photos found on the work computer of a public servant has cost him his job.
The photos showed a junior colleague who the man had been having a secret affair with.
He consequently lost his appeal against an earlier unfair dismissal decision.
Topless photos leads to investigation
Stephen Royce, worked as a dispute mediator for the Queensland government on the Gold Coast.
Management fired him in 2016 after an ethical standards unit investigation found the topless photos on his work computer.
Consequently, investigators discovered the pair were having a secret affair at the time.
Ethical standards investigated Royce over leaking departmental information critical of the Justice Department to then-state politician Alex Douglas.
Investigators first questioned Royce about the office affair in early 2013 as a result of an email complaint by his secret girlfriend’s husband.
Both subsequently denied it.
Worker claims sex discrimination
Royce had been the woman’s supervisor and responsible for her:
- flex time,
- allocation of tasks
- and performance expectation plan.
In late 2013, he took 11 days of sick leave to go on a romantic holiday to Thailand with his secret lover.
The raunchy photos of the couple in a spa were taken during the trip “where [she] is topless with her breasts exposed”.
However, Royce argued that then-assistant deputy director-general Jennifer Lang breached anti-discrimination laws by firing him:
“Jennifer Lang has determined that the two persons being topless within the spa is grounds for dismissal, based on the fact that one is female.
“There’s no issues or concerns with the male or the state of dress of that person, or the actions which have been undertaken in the spa.
“It’s just the mere fact that one of the persons who is topless is a female.”
Commission rejects bid for reinstatement
However, in 2018, Industrial Relations Commission deputy president Adrian Bloomfield rejected Royce’s bid.
Further he described the bid as “fanciful”.
“I found Mr Royce to be a very, very unreliable witness who studiously avoided giving plain answers to plain questions whenever he thought a plain answer might damage his case.”
Royce appealed against the decision in the Industrial Court on 12 grounds, all of which failed.
President Glenn Martin found “no errors of law have been demonstrated”.
Office romances can be dangerous
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Fair Work Claims says there are risks with office romances.
“You can’t stop people falling in love, but office romances can become a real problem when one party is a boss or supervisor of the other,” he said.
“You end up with a power imbalance and major conflicts of interest, which is why most employers have policies that require such relationships to be disclosed to management.”
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