When Sydney Water employee Reem Yelda signed on to be a face of workplace safety in her organisation, she didn’t anticipate it would leave her “humiliated”, anxious and seeking legal representation.
The 39-year-old had been working for the company for 12 years when, in 2016, she agreed to be photographed for posters to be used in the company’s “Safe Spine” campaign.
Before she had the chance to view the result, they were plastered across multiple Sydney Water Depots. There she was, smiling, sporting a high-vis vest, stretching her arms. Above the photograph, a slogan: “Feel great – lubricate!”
Overnight, Yelda says, she became ‘that woman from the poster’, a “laughing stock” among her colleagues.
“I was absolutely humiliated – it is a very male dominated workplace and I felt like I had been turned into the punchline of a dirty joke,” she said.
In a statement issued via law firm, Slater & Gordon, Yelda said the incident left her feeling “betrayed”.
“There are a thousand slogans they could have used that would not have humiliated me,” she said.
“I wouldn’t wish the shame, humiliation and anxiety I have experienced on anyone else, so I hope that speaking out will go some way towards stopping it from happening in the future.”
Yelda has filed a complaint with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, alleging sex discrimination and sexual harassment against Sydney Water and sub-contractor Vitality Works, who designed the poster.
Both have reportedly apologised to Yelda, however, the former has denied it contained any sexual innuendo.
"While Sydney Water cannot disclose the specifics of this matter, Sydney Water's position is that the poster was not conduct of a sexual nature, but a work, health and safety campaign," a spokesperson told media.
Harassment isn't confined to the workplace. (Post continues below.)
Yelda's lawyer, Aron Neilson, said it was completely unreasonable to think that anyone could have failed to anticipate that it would cause offence.
“By continuing to deny the clear sexual implications of the poster, Sydney Water and Vitality Works are adding insult to injury and creating a culture that discourages workers from speaking out," Neilson said.
“Sexual harassment has a demoralising impact on employees. It should not be swept under the rug and it should never be tolerated in a modern work environment.”
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