Protecting your employees and your business from sexual harassment

Posted on 31/3/2022

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

Sexual harassment in the workplace is behaviour that all business owners must be prepared to tackle. Statistically, it happens in most Australian workplaces and impacts on millions of Australian workers. Preventing and managing sexual harassment begins with having the right policies and procedures in place to help prevent it and deal with any issues should they arise.

The allegations of sexual harassment in Federal Parliament in 2021 brought this topic to the fore, forcing timely discussion on a subject that is still too often ignored.

Those allegations, like many before and many since, should be of serious concern 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 like to think that their workplace is free from sexual harassment and that they promote a culture that discourages inappropriate behaviour.

However, just because no one sees it or no one reports, doesn’t mean your business is immune from sexual harassment cases. We know that sexual harassment is incredibly traumatic for victims, who are often fearful of the consequences of speaking out. As a result, sexual harassment remains largely underreported.

HR Consulting Director of Perks People Solutions, Cecilia White highlights the importance of 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 does this make 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.

Cecilia notes that 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,” states Cecilia.

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,” emphasises Cecilia.

Speak 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.

Collette Ordish

Collette Ordish

Collette brings over 20 years of professional experience in business and human resources across Australia, with over 10 years served in strategic HR leadership positions.

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