Sexual Harassment in 2019

Libby Pallot and Abbey Burns

Libby Pallot and Abbey Burns recently presented on sexual harassment in the workplace.

An extraordinary number, one in three people, have experienced sexual harassment at work in the last five years… this is a problem that affects millions of Australians and we, collectively, have a big job ahead to tackle the problem. – Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, AHRC National Workplace Sexual Harassment Survey, August 2018

It is clear that sexual harassment at work is still rife, despite legal prohibition since the Commonwealth introduced the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

However, we are seeing indications of positive cultural change, with a shift towards calling out inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and elsewhere. The media is holding employers to higher standards. Failure to protect a worker from sexual harassment attracts significant reputational, as well as legal, risks.

When thinking about how to manage sexual harassment in workplaces in 2019, we recommend that employers implement both proactive and reactive steps, with a particular focus on changing workplace culture around raising concerns.

Proactive steps can include reviewing sexual harassment policy and worker training programs to ensure they comply with current standards and reduce the likelihood that the employer will be held vicariously liable for a worker’s sexual harassment.It is also useful to consider training for bystanders and to think about whether the workplace culture, or even the language used in a policy, creates a barrier to raising sexual harassment issues internally.

Reactive steps can include thinking about how reports of sexual harassment are handled, the use of informal resolution strategies and the range of outcomes that may flow from a finding of sexual harassment.

If you would like support to implement measures or make these changes in your workplace, please contact the Russell Kennedy Workplace Relations, Employment and Safety team. We provide tailored sexual harassment training for managers and workers.

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