A Victorian employer was recently found vicariously liable for workplace harassment, having to pay the affected employee $150,000 to compensate illness, loss and damages suffered, as the employer did not reasonably intervene or implement measures to prevent such behaviour. This particular case was handled poorly by the employer but demonstrates the necessity for appropriate and timely responses to all employee complaints within the actioning of follow-up, investigation and intervention to maintain employee and workplace safety.
The employee lodged an initial workplace complaint of harassment that identified unwelcomed physical contact, suggestive comments, requests and inappropriate noises and jokes, with no response or intervention made by the employer. The repercussions of no employer preventative efforts saw this situation escalate, resulting in an act of sexual assault and another complaint. After receiving no follow up after complaints were lodged, the employee made a claim to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which saw the court rule in favour of employer liability for the alleged transgression.
Although the employer had an updated policy handbook and all employees had access to the sexual harassment policy and the complaints handling process, no further precaution or intervention was initiated to increase this knowledge/awareness, both before and after the complaint was made. Specifically, the judge noted that it is the employer’s responsibility to implement strategies that increase employee awareness of company policies, providing routine follow-up tasks that demonstrate employee understanding of preventative measures, rights and processes.
It is pivotal that employers act appropriately in response to all employee complaints and claims to increase employee safety, wellbeing, and a positive workplace culture. Effectively this benefits the employer as it reduces the likelihood of damages to workplace productivity, and financial or reputational loss. To prevent this from happening employers need to demonstrate that all reasonable steps are being upheld and taken to prevent harassment, such as:
- Reviewing and updating discrimination and harassment policies;
- Conducting regular training of all policies and procedures, specifically harassment and discrimination, ensuring that all employees are aware of responsibilities, repercussions and associated procedures;
- Monitoring employee behaviour and workplace culture to ensure that all employees are meeting the expected standard; and
- Reviewing and updating the complaints handling process ensuring that these are received and followed through in a sensitive, timely and appropriate manner; complaints should never be ignored!
Assurance HR Management have helped many companies to both review and update policies and procedures and employee education of such. Call us today on 1800 577 515 to speak with one of our team to discuss your business specific needs.