Sexual harassment has become a major topic for business owners and managers thanks to the worldwide publicity surrounding the Me Too movement.
The careless language and behaviour that made some workplaces uncomfortable in the ‘70s and ‘80s are a distant memory for many, but employers and managers still need to play a proactive role in ensuring their workplace is a healthy one.
Any business big or small, blue collar or white collar needs a policy on sexual harassment. While a policy is not required by law, having such a policy can help prevent the law being broken as a result of employees not being aware of their responsibilities.
Of course, the policy must be used for it to be effective and it must be current. The sexual harassment policy should be a part of inductions for new staff and be included in regular staff training.
A healthy workplace culture is also important. You can’t expect your staff to follow the rules if the bosses aren’t setting the right example.
Creating a sexual harassment policy need not be an onerous task. There are plenty of good, basic resources on the internet to get generic advice. Try the Anti-Discrimination Commission, the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman websites.
Tailor the policy to fit your workplace and set out a process for your organisation to deal with it. If you need tailor-made advice, a lawyer can assist.
To ensure a sexual harassment policy fits your business, look at the make-up of your workforce.
You should also consider those staff who are vulnerable or who may be in a minority.
An organisation with a majority of male employees may need a female sexual harassment officer to ensure a woman would feel safe and comfortable raising these issues.
Similarly, cultural issues might have a bearing on how complaints are handled.
In Far North Queensland we have many nationalities working in the tourism industry and doing seasonal work like fruit picking.
Those workers might have different tolerance levels in their countries to what Australians finds acceptable, so you shouldn’t assume that your expectations are the same as theirs.
Social media adds an elevated risk for businesses as stories of harassment can spread very quickly.
High-profile Australian actors Geoffrey Rush and Craig McLachlan both filed defamation claims after complaints were widely reported.
Another sting in the tail for employers is that they are often equally responsible for the actions of an employee found guilty of sexual harassment.
An employer can also be held liable even if the harassment takes place outside work hours.
If there is an issue in your workplace, it needs to be resolved as quickly as possible so it does not escalate. This is especially important for the victim.
Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Commission received 78 complaints of sexual harassment in 2016-17 and 75 per cent of those arose in the workplace.
The Me Too 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.