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‘World First’ Inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace launched

What does this mean for small businesses?

The Australia Human Rights Commission have announced a 12-month long inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace. The inquiry is supported by the Federal Government, with the Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer describing the inquiry as a ‘world first’, and the Federal Government funding half of the project.

Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner of the AHRC, will run the inquiry which will look at drivers of sexual harassment, use of technology, current laws, policies and procedures, and the financial consequences for women who have been targeted.

On launching the inquiry, both women point to increases in sexual harassment in the workplace in Australia. Supported by data to come out in the fourth national survey on the issue.

The spotlight has been shone on sexual harassment at work following the #metoo campaign.

The outcome will be a blueprint of initiatives and guidance for employers on improving the workplace. It will remain to be seen whether this results in any legislation change.
The commissioner stated clearly that policies and procedures have not changed behaviours and have clearly ‘not been enough’. The HR Dept would agree, policies without action or policies without a good culture are not worth the paper they are written on.

So, what should you be doing to protect your staff and business from sexual harassment and its impact?

This is about culture. Make it extremely and undeniably clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. That it will be dealt with swiftly and severely. Set the tone, lead by example, take action and you will gain trust from your workforce.

Have strong reporting systems to make sure that complaints and allegations are dealt with in a fair and structured way. A way that both supports HR best practice, as well as protects you from ending up in court.

Having official equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies down in writing is a great start. But these can also be supported by staff training and regular reviews and updates on the standards of behaviour expected of staff.

A proper and thorough investigation is often the best way to tackle any issue that arises head on. And The HR Dept can be an external and independent pair of eyes to help your business. We will keep an eye on the outcomes of any inquiry and make sure your business stays up to date and compliant.