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While Australian employers have a legal obligation to prevent sexual harassment, many are yet to act.

Sexual harassment happens within every industry, at every level and impacts on millions of Australian workers.

The issue was brought to the fore with the allegations in Federal Parliament in 2021, however it remains a workplace matter that is still too often ignored.

Those allegations, like many before and since, should be of concern to all business owners. The implication of staffers and senior Cabinet Ministers alike demonstrates that sexual harassment can be culturally embedded, even at the highest levels of government.

These issues are not isolated to Canberra. In late 2020, a report released by Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins revealed that 1 in 3 workers in Australia had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years.

Diversity Australia Director Robert Davey  says most business owners would like to think their workplace is free from sexual harassment and that they promote a culture that discourages inappropriate behaviour.

“Just because no one sees it or no one reports, does not mean a business is immune from sexual harassment cases,” says White.

“We know that sexual harassment is incredibly traumatic for victims, who are often fearful of the consequences of speaking out. As a result, sexual harassment remains largely underreported.”

“It is important to ensure you have a workplace that is free from sexual harassment and you have the frameworks – the policies and procedures – in place to deal with any issues that may arise.”

Davey says in addition to this creating a safer and more inclusive environment, it has been shown to increase employee engagement and productivity.

“Business owners have a responsibility to their employees to ensure they understand the organisation’s stance on sexual harassment, behavioural expectations and how issues will be handled,” continues Davey.

“Importantly, they must also provide assurance that employees can safely report any incidents without fear of victimisation.”

He notes that employers who take proactive steps to prevent and address sexual harassment will reap the benefits of a workforce that feels safe and supported, while also meeting their legal obligations.

“Under both State and Federal sexual harassment and workplace health and safety laws, employers are legally required to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in their workplaces and to ensure they have proper mechanisms in place to address complaints of sexual harassment when they do arise,” states Davey.

This includes not only sexual harassment between workers, but also others that may interact with a business, such as customers or contractors.

Failing to abide by these obligations as an employer can result in legal action, negative publicity and, most importantly, a workplace that is unsafe and sexually hostile.

Davey says employers can demonstrate they have met their requirements under the relevant laws and have effectively managed risks to employees’ health and safety by:

  • having a sexual harassment policy in place
  • educating staff and managers on the importance of a workplace that is free from sexual harassment
  • taking proper steps to address complaints of sexual harassment when they do arise; and
  • ensuring a culture (led from the top down) where people are empowered and supported to report sexual harassment.

“The potential human and financial cost to business in not taking these steps is significant and putting proper preventative steps in place should be at the top of any business’ risk radar,” emphasises Davey.

For training go to Diversity Australia https://www.diversityaustralia.com.au/training/respectful-workplace/