Sexual harassment in the workplace is not a new topic for employers. But in light of the #MeToo movement, it is one worth revisiting.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2016, 17% of women said they had been sexually harassed in the past year, and approximately one in two women and one in four men had experienced sexual harassment during their lifetime.

Employers have a duty of care to prevent and respond to cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. Working in an environment free from sexual harassment is a human right.

The effects of sexual harassment extend far beyond the affected individual alone; your business’ reputation is at risk, and legal action can be costly. On an organisational level, productivity can be affected as well as reduced morale, absenteeism and higher turnover.

To minimise the chances of sexual harassment occurring in your workplace, you must first instil a zero tolerance policy and foster a harassment-free culture.

Consider the following:

Create a sexual harassment policy

Creating a sexual harassment policy is first and foremost. The policy should outline a code of conduct, provide examples of unacceptable behaviour, the consequences of breaching the policy and explain the processes in place to deal with reports of sexual harassment. Understanding what the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984 classifies as sexual harassment will help businesses to tailor their code of conduct appropriately.

The Sex Discrimination Act recognises sexual harassment as:

  • Inappropriate staring or leering
  • Unnecessary familiarity, including deliberately brushing up against someone or touching
  • Suggestive comments, jokes, insults or taunts of a sexual nature
  • Requests for sex or sexual acts
  • Intrusive questioning, in person or through technology

Treat complaints seriously

The way complaints are treated in your business says a lot about its attitude towards sexual harassment. Ignoring or dismissing complaints creates a culture of tolerance. An internal complaint procedure should be set in place, identifying the steps that will be taken and how information will be documented. Complaints must be kept confidential and addressed in a fair, sensitive and timely manner.

Provide training

Employees must understand what is considered sexual harassment and feel supported to report cases of sexual harassment without fear of consequences. Facilitating training either bi-annually or annually and through induction reinforces the business’ commitment to taking sexual harassment seriously. Be sure to provide your staff with copies of your policy and display the policy on office notice boards, the intranet, and other key staff meeting points.

*** This publication is for guidance only, and professional advice should be obtained before acting on any information contained herein. Neither the publishers nor the distributors can accept any responsibility for loss occasioned to any person as a result of action taken or refrained from in consequence of the contents of this publication. Publication date April 2018

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