20 Dec 2023
A male nurse who sexually harassed four female colleagues has been reprimanded and suspended from practising by a tribunal for eight months.
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Stephan Harris was referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (the NMBA) in 2021, for alleged professional misconduct involving the sexual harassment of four female colleagues between 2015 and 2019.
In July 2023, the tribunal heard evidence that Mr Harris was professional with some staff but pushed the boundaries with other staff who he was more comfortable with. This included poking or tickling people under the arms while behind them, and in some instances, patting, slapping, or pinching their bottom. Staff complained of such actions happening each time they were on shift with Mr Harris.
Three colleagues received text and Facebook messages from Mr Harris with pictures of love hearts and poems, which made them feel uncomfortable. Some unsolicited messages mentioned missing seeing the individual when not at work and that they were beautiful.
The tribunal found the proven conduct was substantially below the standard reasonably expected of a registered practitioner of an equivalent level of training or experience to Mr Harris.
It found the conduct was inconsistent with Mr Harris being a fit and proper person to hold registration as a nurse and ordered that:
The tribunal concluded that an eight-month suspension was appropriate to indicate the serious nature of the conduct and to signal to Mr Harris and other practitioners the need to maintain professional standards and the adverse consequences for failing to do so.
It found that the conduct was uninvited, unwelcome, and made the colleagues feel uncomfortable, as well as guilty (two colleagues) and physically ill (one colleague). The women didn’t understand why the physical contact was happening or why the suggestive and overtly familiar or intimate messages were being sent.
The tribunal concluded that the education and mentoring conditions on Mr Harris’ registration addressed the issue of specific deterrence, as they were directed at ensuring there is no repetition of the conduct by Mr Harris. The conditions will also have a protective effect on the public and future colleagues.
Mr Harris told the tribunal that he is currently unemployed.
Read the tribunal’s full decision on AustLII.