In the midst of the Harvey Weinstein investigations and the birth of the Me Too! Movement, the Australian Human Rights Commission undertook an investigation into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and concluded that the current legislation was not at the level it should be. To quote the report, it is no longer “fit for purpose”, being too complex and confusing for both employers and victims to understand with the emphasis being on individuals to register a complaint.
The report made over 50 recommendations, one of which was to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to force employers to take “reasonable and proportionate measures” to put a stop to sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
It also recommended that those people in the workplace that “aid or permit” sexual harassment to occur in the workplace should become as liable for the event as the person actually committing the harassment.
Logically, this means that employers need to take a much stronger hand in ensuring that opportunities for sexual harassment are drastically reduced and that systems and policies are put in place that will help prevent harassment, but also identify it if it is happening and allow steps to be taken to stop it.
So here are some strong tips on how to deal with the possibility of sexual harassment in YOUR workplace that we have called “The Five R’s of Prevention”.
Review Policies and Training Procedures
Every workplace should have a general policy and procedure manuals to assist with the smooth running of the workplace but these need to be brought up to date and the changes of emphasis required by the recommendations of the report are implemented in accordance with best practice.
- Policies must apply to everyone in the workplace, especially with regard to managers, supervisors, and those that control staff behaviour.
- Sexual misconduct needs to be clearly defined, including examples and definitions of what is not permitted.
- Specific and strong statements must be made that Sexual Misconduct will not be acceptable in your workplace.
- Provide reporting procedures and support structures to make registering a complaint more straightforward.
- Ensure that all complaints are treated with respect and investigated.
- Ensure that an investigation is conducted to prioritise the wellbeing, protection, and safety, of everyone involved.
- Ensure that the person making the complaint is not subject to victimisation, ridicule, and retaliation.
Risk Assessment Review
As well as being an Industrial Relations issue, Safe Work Australia recommends that sexual harassment in the workplace should be treated in exactly the same way as any other Workplace Health and Safety issue.
This means creating a risk assessment of areas in the workplace in which sexual harassment could occur which might include areas where the actions of staff may not be easy to oversee or where the make-up of the workgroup might lead to behaviour which some in the group might find offensive.
Remove the Possibility of Victimisation or Vilification
One way to encourage staff to come forward is to remove the possibility of repercussion from the equation.
In order to achieve this, you might decide to implement an anonymous survey amongst all staff which asks about how they are getting on working in your business and what are the good and bad things about working for your company.
Not only will the anonymity assist staff who may be victims of sexual misconduct to come forward by notifying you that there is a problem in a certain area, but it may also highlight other areas that need attention or that are going very well which would enable implementation in other areas of your business.
Report Possible Areas of Concern
Encourage someone that may see sexual conduct occurring with another person in the workplace to come forward and report it via an anonymous reporting process.
With the right training and policies, all staff can help with reporting these situations in a way that will remove them from being victimised or ostracised by their work-mates and help the business owner or manager keep on top of a situation that might be on the verge of getting out of control.
Responsible Support Structure
Appointing specific people as the first point of contact for staff who feel they are victims of sexual misconduct and are trained to provide supportive and caring advice may well encourage both a victim or an onlooker that sees a problem to come forward and report a given situation.
These “Support Officers” would be given a raised profile in the workplace and would need to receive appropriate training on how to handle the situation if they are approached.