Legal Insights

Best practice in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace

By Catherine Dunlop, Tamsin Webster

• 18 February 2022 • 4 min read
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A recent survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 85% of Australian women have been sexually harassed at work at some point in their lives, but only 17% of workers who experienced sexual harassment reported it.

Just because your organisation has not received many (or any) reports of sexual harassment, does not mean it isn’t happening.

Preventing sexual harassment is good for business – by preventing sexual harassment businesses can minimise legal, reputational and financial risk; improve productivity and worker well-being; it is also necessary to comply with legal obligations. It is estimated that in 2018 sexual harassment cost the Australian economy approximately $3.8 billion.

What can you do to ensure your organisation is up-to-date with best practice, as well as complying with its legal obligations?

Recent reports and guidelines by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) and Safe Work Australia provide useful guidance. We set out a checklist below on the key elements of best practice.

QuestionYesNo
Knowledge:

Does your organisation understand its obligations under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) (or other state-based equal opportunity legislation) and other relevant legislation (such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth))?
Does your organisation have up-to-date knowledge about workplace sexual harassment, including the drivers (such as gender inequality and other power imbalances), the impacts and how to identify and respond to it?
Risk Management:

Does your organisation recognise sexual harassment as a work health and safety risk? Is this recorded in your risk register? Have you conducted a risk assessment, considering the drivers, to identify particular risk areas and workers at risk?
Does your organisation consult with workers to identify risks that could exist in relation to sexual harassment?
Does your organisation have a sexual harassment prevention plan that considers the risks that exist in your workplace and how they will be minimised and monitored?

Sexual Harassment policy:

Does your organisation have a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that includes multiple reporting options?

Is the policy victim centred with a procedurally fair process that is reflective of modern practice?
Organisational capability:

Do the leaders in your organisation drive a culture of respect through modelling respectful behaviour and communicating expectations?

Do all staff receive training on sexual harassment, victimisation and respectful workplace behaviour on a regular basis?
Reporting and response:

Do workers know how and where to make a complaint, both internally and externally?

Do leaders and managers know how to respond if a complaint is raised with them?
Are bystanders encouraged and supported to report inappropriate behaviour?
Monitoring and evaluation:

Does your organisation regularly review, evaluate and improve outcomes and strategies, including the prevention plan and the sexual harassment policy?

If your answer to any of these questions is no, your organisation may not be up-to-date with best practice and/or may not be complying with its legal obligations. If this is the case, a great place to start is by reviewing the VEOHRC guidelines, which we think provide practical guidance for employers in all Australian jurisdictions.

Please call or email Tamsin Webster, Catherine Dunlop or a member of our Employment, Safety & People team if you would like assistance in relation to any of the elements of this checklist. Among other things, we can deliver training, brief your Executive, assist you with responding to complaints or claims and review your policies/prevention plans.

Looking for further assistance or advice on sexual harassment in the workplace?

Contact our Employment, Safety & People team

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