The results of the 2018 survey on sexual harassment in the workplace (conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and involving over 10,000 Australian participants) are now in, and they have produced what I would consider to be some seriously concerning statistics!

Most notably:

  • One in three people have experienced sexual harassment at work in the last five years;
  • Only 17% of those people made a formal report or complaint;
  • Sexual harassment is most commonly perpetrated by men, and is in many cases ongoing;
  • One in three people either witnessed or heard about sexual harassment in the workplace, although only one third of those people took action in response to the incident.

How can employers assist in turning these statistics around?

  1. Employers should proactively place emphasis on the implementation of preventative measures which aim to minimise the likelihood of such behaviour occurring within the workplace in the first place. Examples of this type of focus might include:
    1. Having up to date workplace behavioural policies (e.g. up to date harassment, discrimination and bullying polices); and
    2. Offering regular training on the subject matter.
  1. Properly handling allegations and complaints relating to inappropriate workplace behaviour as soon as they are brought to the organisation's attention.

In addition to the above, it is exceedingly important to ensure that all employees have access to both soft copy (digital) and hard copy (physical) up to date versions of all key workplace policies covering not only harassment, but also discrimination and bullying, at all times. At Coleman Greig Lawyers we have soft copy version of these documents available to all employees via our staff intranet, with hard copy versions available through our Human Resources department.

Ideally, training covering these types of inappropriate behaviours should be conducted every 12 months. Depending on employee numbers and whether the organisation has the means to provide this training internally, it is not uncommon for organisations to bring in external professional to present such sessions. This can assist in taking a certain level of stress away from management, as they are able to delegate the responsibility to a professional.

In accompaniment to this type of employee training, a copy of all relevant workplace policies should be re-distributed, and staff should be encouraged to re-read and possibly sign off on them as evidence that they are across the current content (including any changes or updates, if any, that may have been made since the policies were last distributed).

As a starting point, the basic components of a legally compliant harassment (including sexual harassment) policy include:

  • Details of what actually constitutes harassment (including sexual harassment);
  • Examples of harassment (verbal, non-verbal and physical); and
  • Details of what to do if employees feel that they are being harassed (including details of the grievance handling process, and the procedure that is likely to be followed).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.