A complaint by a public servant about a birthday GIF sent to a work colleague has escalated to reach the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC).
And Industrial Commissioner Dwyer lamented having to deal with the matter in Brisbane last week.
Electoral Commission worker Moira McNeil appealed to the QIRC over the management of her complaint about the happy birthday message, which was sent to an Asian co-worker in October 2022 and contained an animated clip of an orang-utan dancing.
Ms McNeil had complained the GIF was racist and sexually inappropriate, and maintained her stance despite many layers of review – including an independent investigation by an external agency – finding to the contrary. This was also despite no formal complaint being made by the Asian colleague.
Commissioner Dwyer said the matter was “testament to the inefficiencies created by the layers of policies and directives in which the public service is mired that this great waste of time and money has been able to occur”.
“It is regrettable that a controversy surrounding a single email containing a birthday message has been able consume countless public sector working hours, thousands of taxpayer dollars in lost productivity and fees for the investigation and now, many hours of the limited and valuable resources of this Commission,” he said.
Commissioner Dwyer chronicled how Ms McNeil’s original complaint about the GIF had been “almost wholly consumed into an ever-widening array of complaints about the handling of her complaint”.
“This comical (but accurate) description of the journey of Ms McNeil’s complaint reveals just how many opportunities she has legitimately had available to her to press the same complaint about the GIF over and over and over again,” he said.
“With each rejection of her complaint about the GIF, Ms McNeil responds with ever expanding, increasingly fervent arguments citing multiple reasons purporting to show why (she says) each decision maker fell into error. All of these cited reasons are of a technical or procedural nature e.g. failure to speak to witnesses or to comply with a directive.
“It seems entirely beyond the scope of Ms McNeil’s capacity to contemplate that each decision maker or the investigator might have objectively and independently concluded that the conduct of (the gif sender) was simply not offensive.
“According to Ms McNeil, every one of the four individuals who have separately considered her complaint are wrong, and the reasons why they are all wrong expand with each elevation of her complaint.”
Commissioner Dwyer said the mere inclusion of an image of an orang-utan in an electronic message to a person of Asian ethnicity could not, of itself, lead to a conclusion that such conduct was inherently racist.
Further, the GIF in question was a ubiquitous stock image contained within the electronic messaging system, and was not altered in any way before it was sent, he said.
“For completeness, the Commission does not consider that the GIF was sexually inappropriate either…Some of the dance moves depicted in the clip might be regarded as mildly risqué to more conservative individuals, but not to the point of being objectively offensive,” he said.
He concluded the complained-of conduct was “patently innocuous” and Ms McNeil’s complaint was “plainly unsustainable”.
“Pursuit of the appeal merely to pedantically prove that there were technical failures to e.g. comply with directives, is the epitome of a trivial cause,” he said
“A process of reviewing or even correcting each of these alleged errors would be an exercise in time wasting second only in magnitude to the exercise undertaken by this Commission in preparing these reasons.”
Commissioner Dwyer ordered that under Section 562A of the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld), the QIRC would not hear Ms McNeil’s appeal.