Employers need to understand their legal obligations to educate workers about appropriate office behaviour and ensure that robust procedures for managing harassment claims are used, according to Sam McIvor, an employment and safety partner at Mullins, a WorkCover Queensland panel law firm.
“Employers can be held legally responsible for acts of discrimination or harassment that occur in the workplace or in connection with a person’s employment,” McIvor said.
“Given that the most common types of workplace sexual harassment include offensive, sexually suggestive comments or jokes, employers need to embed a workplace culture that explicitly calls out these behaviours as unacceptable.”
However, he said it is the psychological and social impacts on employees – and resulting sexual harassment claims – which can cause significant emotional and reputational damage.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is conducting a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, the 12-month inquiry is accepting public submissions until 31 January 2019, to be followed by a public consultation process.
The AHRC will report on the drivers of workplace sexual harassment, steps taken by employers to prevent and respond to harassment claims, and the impacts workplace sexual harassment can have on individuals and workplaces.
According to a recent AHRC survey of 10,000 Australians titled Everyone’s Business: 2018 Sexual Harassment Survey, 33 per cent said they had experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years but only 17 per cent made a formal complaint to their employer.
The survey also found almost 20 per cent claimed they had been labelled troublemakers, ostracised by their employer, victimised or ignored by colleagues after lodging a claim.
McIvor said it is important that employers develop and implement policies in their workplace to ensure that all staff are aware what types of behaviours constitute harassment and that harassing behaviour will not be tolerated.
Further, all staff need to be trained so they understand these policies and ensure they are reinforced so employees know how to report such behaviour in the unfortunate event that it does occur.
For more information on the AHRC’s national enquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, visit the AHRC’s website.
Article originally published by the Safety Institute of Australia.