Workplace sexual harassment has received global attention in recent years, thanks to progressive movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp. However the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces suggests that more awareness is needed for the problem to be understood in everyday work situations.
Why more needs to be done
We couldn’t agree more, and can’t stress enough that swift and serious action is imperative when it comes to tackling sexual harassment.
The long-standing and endemic problem in Australia was highlighted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who upon revealing the survey findings, noted that one in three workers in Australia said they had been sexually harassed at work over the last five years. A significant and worrying increase from one in five in a previous survey.
Findings also revealed that only 17% of people went on to report or make a formal complaint, suggesting that there is a much wider issue.
Commissioner Jenkins went on to say, “Unwelcome sexual conduct on this scale in the workplace not only causes distress to workers and colleagues, it impacts workplace productivity and impedes career progression, which has an economic impact on businesses and families”.
The results of the survey will inform a ‘world first’ 12-month national inquiry in an ongoing effort to stamp out sexual harassment from Australian workplaces and change the current culture. Until then, read on to find out what you can be doing to be a part of the solution.
As an employer you are liable for acts of harassment carried out by your employees in the course of their employment (under the Sex Discrimination Act). If such harassment is not adequately addressed, it could result in a Fair Work tribunal, considerable fines and irrevocable damage to your business. With the right culture and policies put in place, this could all be avoided.
Your warning signs
In order to effectively stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to understand what it is. Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. This can include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Staring or leering
- Unnecessary familiarity or unwelcome touching
- Suggestive comments or jokes
- Insults or taunts of a sexual nature
- Intrusive questions or statements about a person’s private life
- Displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature
- Sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
Sexual harassment can be between persons of the same or different sex. A one-off occurrence is enough to be concerned about. What may be considered as just a joke to one person could very well be harmful to another and come with high risk.
Start with your company culture. Make it undeniably clear to your employees that sexual harassment is prohibited from your workplace and that any occurrences will face severe consequences. This can be further reiterated through a sexual harassment policy and staff training.
In addition to this, you’ll want to practice what you preach and follow fair procedures when dealing with complaints of harassment. Aim to address any issues in a timely manner and protect the confidentiality of your employees.
Sexual harassment is a sensitive and complex issue. If it is managed poorly it can do serious damage to your business. For expert advice and peace of mind on the subject, contact your local HR Dept without delay.