Following the recent claims made against Harvey Weinstein, thousands of women have spoken up about their experience of workplace sexual harassment using the hashtag #metoo. We might like to imagine that sexual harassment is not happening in workplaces across Australia, but women are clearly telling us otherwise. Below are our top tips to prevent sexual harassment in your business:
- Develop a zero-tolerance policy – ensure that your company has a comprehensive anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policy that has been tailored to reflect Australian law. Make sure your policy is available to staff and understood.
- Train your staff - conduct regular training sessions in sexual harassment and anti-discrimination law. Make sure employees understand what sexual harassment and discrimination is and what they should do if they are subject to or witness unlawful conduct.
- Have sound processes in place – have sound reporting, complaint handling and investigation processes in place so that complaints can be managed in a timely and appropriate way. Ensure that managers know what they should do if they receive a complaint of unlawful conduct.
- Compliance – ensure that all staff, including senior and executive level employees, understand that they must comply with the anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policy. Employees should be confident that a complaint will be treated seriously and handled properly, irrespective of who the alleged offender is.
- Enforcement – treat complaints seriously and confidentially and take steps to investigate and deal with complaints. Ensure that managers understand they must always enforce the anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policy and respond to complaints.
Taking active steps to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination at work is not only a sound business practice, but can potentially protect employers from reputational damage and being held vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful conduct. Australian courts are increasingly willing to award substantial damages to victims of sexual harassment and there are now a string of cases where six and seven figure damages awards have been made to victims of sexual harassment. These cases, along with recent news headlines, should be a timely reminder for employers to address any risks before a problem develops.