Recently the Australian Human Rights Commission announced an independent national inquiry in sexual harassment in the workplace. Following on from the viral #MeToo movement it will look at the effectiveness of existing laws and what is happening in Australian workplaces.  

Is sexual harassment in the workplace really an issue?  

According to the Human Rights Commission, workplace sexual harassment affects around 21% of people aged 15 years and older. It states, “We have also seen the emergence of new and different forms or sexual harassment, facilitated in part by the increasing use of social media and other technologies at work.” 

In light of this, in the post we’ll look at what your responsibilities are as an employer when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.  

1. Compliance 

Under the Sex Discrimination Act, as an employer you must take all reasonable steps to minimise the risk of discrimination and harassment occurring in the workplace. You are expected to: 

  • Have an appropriate sexual harassment policy 
  • Train workers on how to identify and deal with sexual harassment 
  • Implement procedures for reporting and dealing with complaints 
  • Take appropriate action if and when sexual harassment occurs.

2. Employee engagement and culture 

Sexual harassment in the workplace is more than just a compliance issue. It can have damaging effect on an organisation’s culture and the engagement of its employees. Allowing inappropriate behaviour to continue will negatively affect work performance, lead to increased absenteeism and higher rates of employee turner over.  

3. Monitor the workplace  

Relying on employees to report inappropriate behaviour isn’t always enough to prevent and manage sexual harassment in the workplace. In some cases it may be necessary to regularly monitor workplace behaviours using tools like employee surveys and workplace investigations. 

Being anonymous, employee surveys can be a useful tool in understanding current workplace behaviours and employee engagement levels. They can help you to identify if you should provide additional workplace training and whether your procedures are effective in supporting employees to report incidences of sexual harassment.  

In some situations you may need to conduct a workplace investigation to uncover details of specific instances or understand why you have a recurring issue around inappropriate behaviour. Workplace investigations are best conducted by an outside objective party, such as a HR consultant, so employees feel like they can be open and honest without workplace relationships being an issue.  

If you would like some help to review your sexual harassment policies and practices, please get in touch as we’d love to help.