Protecting your employees and your business from sexual harassment

Posted on 1/3/2021

HR

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Overview:

Sexual harassment in the workplace is something that all business owners need to be prepared to confront and it begins with having the right policies and procedures in place to help prevent it and deal with any issues should they arise.
Protecting your employees

Recent allegations of sexual harassment in Federal Parliament have once again brought this topic to the fore, forcing timely discussion on a subject that is still too often ignored.

These latest allegations should be alarming to all business owners. The implication of staffers and senior Cabinet Ministers alike demonstrates that sexual harassment can be culturally embedded, even at the highest levels of government in our country.

These issues are certainly not isolated to Canberra either. In late 2020, a report released by Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins revealed that 1 in 3 workers in Australia had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years.

It would never happen in my business

Most business owners would probably like to think that their workplace is free from sexual harassment and that they promote a culture that discourages inappropriate behaviour.

However,  just because you don’t see it happen or haven’t had any incidents reported, doesn’t mean your business is immune from this behaviour. As we know, sexual harassment is incredibly traumatic for victims, who are also often fearful ofthe consequences of speaking out. As a result, sexual harassment remains largely underreported.

Ensuring you have a workplace that is free from sexual harassment and you have the  frameworks in place to deal with any issues that may arise, not only makes for a safer and more inclusive environment, but is also shown to increase employee engagement and productivity.

Understanding your obligations

As a business owner, you have a responsibility to your employees to ensure they understand what the organisation’s stance is on sexual harassment, what behavioural expectations exist, how issues will be handled and importantly provide assurance that employees can safely come forward and report any incidents without fear of victimisation.

Employers who take proactive steps to prevent and address sexual harassment will not only reap the benefits of a workforce that feels safe and supported, but they will also meet their legal obligations.

Under both State and Federal sexual harassment and workplace health and safety laws, employers are legally required to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in their workplaces and to ensure they have proper mechanisms in place to address complaints of sexual harassment when they do arise.

This includes not only sexual harassment between workers but also others that may interact with your business, such as customers or contractors.

Failing to abide by your obligations as an employer can result in costly legal action, negative publicity and, most importantly, a workplace that is unsafe and sexually hostile.

But where do you start?

There are many ways employers can demonstrate they have met their requirements under the relevant laws and that they have effectively managed risks to employees’ health and safety, including:

  • having a sexual harassment policy in place;
  • educating staff and managers on the importance of a workplace that is free from sexual harassment;
  • taking proper steps to address complaints of sexual harassment when they do arise; and
  • ensuring a culture (led from the top down) where people are empowered and supported to report sexual harassment.

The potential human and financial cost to business in not taking these steps is significant and putting proper preventative steps in place should be at the top of any business’ risk radar.

If you would like further information about creating a best practice sexual harassment policy or how to effectively educate your teams and leaders, contact the team at Perks People Solutions.

Talk to our HR Consulting Team

Cecilia White

Cecilia White

With a background in legal practice, Cecilia has developed strong technical expertise in all matters relating to workplace law, including awards, contracts, disciplinary matters, investigations, equal opportunity and HR policy development.

Sarah Hills

Sarah Hills

Sarah’s philosophy is about partnering with clients to get the best outcome for them within the context of their business objectives, operations and resources.

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