Sexual harassment is unlawful.

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is done either to offend, humiliate or intimidate another person, or where it is reasonable to expect the person might feel that way. It includes uninvited physical intimacy such as touching in a sexual way, uninvited sexual propositions, and remarks with sexual connotations.

The #MeToo movement has lifted the lid on an unacceptable behaviour that has no place in any workplace and can be prevented if employers take proactive steps to reduce the risk of it happening.

33% of people who had been in the workforce in the previous five years said they had experienced workplace sexual harassment. 85% of women had been sexually harassed and 39% had been sexually harassed at work during this period.

An employer is legally responsible and financially liable for the acts of an employee, even though the employer may be without blame or fault.

Sexual harassment in your workplace can result in legal proceedings in the Fair Work Commission or the Queensland Human Rights Commission.  This could include claims against your business for adverse action or unlawful termination.  Injunctions, compensation, damages and civil penalties can be ordered against you and your business.

An employer has a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all employees.  If an employee is sexually harassed in the workplace, there is even a potential for workers compensation or personal injury claims.

The consequences of harassment can include a loss of enjoyment of life, setbacks to career, severe psychiatric illness and mental health decline.  The various Courts, Commissions and Tribunals accept that community attitudes regarding the impact of sexual harassment have changed.

What can you do about preventing sexual harassment in your workplace?

There are three simple areas on which you can focus.

Effective workplace policies, training and culture.

  1. It is important to have a clear policy in your workplace which reinforces that sexual harassment is unlawful and will not be tolerated. The sexual harassment policy should form a part of inductions for new staff and be included in regular staff training.  Consider having one or more sexual harassment officers and also an external employee assistance program.
  2. A good workplace policy on sexual harassment is just the beginning. You also need to have regular “refreshers” and ongoing training in these important areas.  All policies should be available for staff to access, for example, in an employee handbook, in a common area, or on the organisation’s intranet.  Ensure that policies are kept updated with changes in the law.
  3. As we all know, the culture of the organisation is set by the leaders. Owners and management influence the culture of a business and so need to set the highest example.  Workplace policies need to be implemented consistently and fairly – they apply equally to everyone.  You can’t expect your staff to follow the rules if the employers aren’t setting the best example.