Employers must review their internal policies to ensure that they have adequate procedures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and to respond to and manage complaints appropriately.

Following the recent allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein, employers in Australia are seeing a spike in the number of reported sexual harassment claims in their workplaces.

The scandal

As the number of sexual harassment and assault allegations continue to increase against Harvey Weinstein, the story has sparked a wider conversation about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Outside of Hollywood, reported incidences of sexual harassment are also on the rise and a survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 1 in 4 women surveyed had been sexually harassed at work in the past five years.

Review your policies and implement appropriate workplace training

In light of this increased public awareness, employers must review their internal policies to ensure that they have adequate procedures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and to respond to and manage complaints appropriately.

A robust sexual harassment policy should include the following measures:

  • outline the internal procedures for making a complaint, carrying out an investigation and implementing disciplinary procedures;
  • provide a clear definition of what does and does not constitute sexual harassment;
  • emphasise that sexual harassment is unlawful behaviour and may constitute a criminal offence in certain circumstances;
  • provide adequate training of senior staff, managers and HR who are responsible for monitoring workplace behaviour;
  • summarise the options available for dealing with a sexual harassment complaint including the provision of counselling and support services; and
  • outline the potential consequences for breach of the policy.

While having a policy in place is an important step in combatting this behaviour, failing to implement and communicate the policy to all workplace staff will undermine any formal procedures in place.

It is therefore crucial that the standard of behaviour expected by employees is clearly understood by all and is led from the top down in organisations. Achieving this may include, but is not limited to, conducting workplace-wide training and providing a copy of the policy to all staff.

Key takeaways

One positive that has come out of the Weinstein scandal is the increased dialogue on the need to address sexual harassment in the workplace. In response to this cultural shift, employers need to ensure that:

  • internal measures and policies are in place which prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and set out measures to respond to potential claims should they arise; and
  • all staff are properly educated on accepted workplace behaviours to reduce instances of harassment and create a workplace culture that is both supportive of employees and responsive to complaints.