ACC staffer shocked man she complained about still worked with survivors

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Warning: This story contains details of sexual harrassment

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By Anusha Bradley for rnz.co.nz

An ACC employee says she was sexually harassed by a male colleague but after she complained, the corporation allowed him to continue working with survivors of sexual abuse.

RNZ understands several other women at the same ACC office also felt harassed by the man.

One woman, who RNZ has agreed not to name, laid a formal complaint about him in July. She said she had been given no information since lodging the complaint and still did not know if her employer was conducting an investigation.

After enquiring about the status of her complaint last week she was told that HR had sent her complaint, identifying her, to the man without advising that several other women she believed would also be making complaints had backed out.

"I felt the rug had been ripped out from underneath me. I was really shocked that they didn't tell me because that was the basis of my giving my consent. It mattered a lot that they didn't lay complaints.

"Last week I got an email saying they had emailed him the complaint and spoken to him. And that was it."

The woman said her manager rang her on Monday evening, after RNZ made enquiries about her case, to suggest some possible options to keep her safe at work, including blocking internal calls from the man and restricting his access within the building to ensure they could not meet in person.

ACC refused to answer questions from RNZ about how it was handling the matter.

"ACC does not comment on employee-related matters. ACC has clear processes in place for responding to claims of this nature that prioritise the safety, wellbeing and privacy of our people," it said in a statement.

The woman said her coworker began sexually harassing her last year after an office reshuffle left them sitting nearby one another.

"It started off as little comments that I wasn't really sure were harassment. I wasn't sure whether I was just being sensitive or not," she said.

It wasn't until later that the harassment really started, she said.

"He started asking me pretty gross questions. Like, how often I masturbated and all that sort of stuff."

The harassment continued inside and outside of work over eight months, she said.

"Initially, I wondered if he just didn't realise that he was making inappropriate questions or comments until I outright said: 'You know, this is sexual harassment'. He said, 'No, it's not. And even if it was, you could handle it'."

In March he sent her an unsolicited message on Microsoft Teams, seen by RNZ, which made her feel uncomfortable.

Believing others would think she was bitter about work-related issues, the woman was reluctant to lay a complaint.

The man was later appointed to a role working with victims of sexual abuse. He moved to a different part of the office and the harassment stopped, she said.

But a month later she found out at an office function that several other women had also felt sexually harassed by the man.

"That was when I went to my manager."

Her manager supported her to make a formal complaint to HR, who interviewed her in July but she had not heard anything until RNZ contacted ACC this week.

She had no idea whether the man was under investigation or whether he had faced any consequences and he still worked with sexual abuse survivors.

"I would like ACC to acknowledge the seriousness of the complaint and tell me whether they are actually investigating."

The woman's mental health had suffered as a result of the harassment and the agency's response, which left her feeling unsafe at work, she said.

"I've had 36 sick leave days since this all started. I've been hospitalised three times with suicidal ideation. Every time I think about going into the office I get heart palpitations.

"My saviour was lockdown. Now we've got Level 1 pending and I've got that panic coming back. I don't feel safe at all."

The woman said her manager had been very supportive, allowing her to work from home and checking in with her multiple times.

She understood two other women had complained about the man's behaviour to their managers but nothing had come of their complaints.

"If they had been dealt with professionally, I wouldn't have been next in line for his harassment."

She was "horrified" at ACC's handling of her complaint and at the thought the man was still dealing with sexual abuse survivors.

The woman, who was a sexual abuse survivor herself and had a sensitive claim with ACC, felt the man should no longer be working with survivors until an investigation has taken place.

"It disturbs me.

"To knowingly put them in that position where he is reading all of these psychological reports that, like, it just horrifies me. I feel like ACC don't care."

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