We have all seen the huge amount of media attention given to Sexual Harassment in Hollywood and witnessed how this trend has then sparked further claims across a number of other areas and with other well-known individuals.
Many of these claims are well founded and horrific in nature and all steps should be taken to stamp out practises that are clearly harassing in nature and individuals who perpetrate these practises.
Some other claims, make you shake your head and wonder how the perpetrator could be so stupid in this day and age, to engage in such offensive behaviour and while the behaviour must be publically acknowledged as wrong and perpetrators need to be educated as to current standards of behaviour, the rest of us wonder how this is still going on in 2018?
What many employers may not realise is that you can be held vicariously liable for the actions of your workers. You have a duty of care over all your employees to maintain a safe and healthy workplace and you must make a conscious effort to manage any harassment in your workplace. Furthermore, these types of claims, generally fall under ‘General Protection’ claims that have unlimited damages – makes an unfair dismissal claim look like a piece of fluff!
Businesses who have male dominated cultures need to be especially aware of how certain behaviours may be viewed by other workers. Harassment is a form of discrimination. Even if the events happen outside your workplace, if there are enough connections to the workplace, you will be liable. Employers need to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent any harassment or discrimination.
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome, or unwanted sexual behaviour which has the effect of making the victim feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. Sexual harassment in not interaction where both parties are consensual, but the line between wanted and unwanted can be grey and can change with the shifting emotions of humans. In many cases of sexual harassment the line is black and white and the actions taken are clearly sexual harassment. However in other cases, what may start as innocent flirtation and progress to an intimate level with consent, may later become a completely different story from both parties. It is a minefield for employers.
So what can employers do?
The number one step is to have some strong policies in place – this could be a specific sexual harassment policy or could be a strong general anti-discrimination policy that covers off on sexual harassment. Having a code of Conduct also assists. You need to make sure that people in your workplace adhere to general standards of behaviour and having these written into a policy assist you to implement this. You can even go to such levels as having a ‘Personal Relationships in the Workplace’ policy!
923|HR can assist you to decide upon what suite of policies you should implement and can supply legally written fair Work compliant polices for you to use. Policies assist you in three ways:
1. As a training tool for your team
2. As a reason to implement disciplinary action for breaches of the company policy
3. As a protection mechanism that shows the steps you have taken to communicate your business’ standards of behaviour
However, having the policy is not enough. You need to train you team in the terms of the policy – don’t know how to do that? That is where 923|HR can also assist you. We run team training events on a wide variety of HR issues.
If a claim is made, you will need to run an investigation. Sometimes organisations are too diligent with this and fire the perpetrator who then goes on to raise a successful unfair dismissal claim. Get professionals to assist you with workplace investigations: 923|HR
Basically what any employer needs to do to mitigate the chances of being caught up in the current sexual harassment claims is:
1. Implement policies and set up training around these policies;
2. Send a clear message to your workers of what is and is not acceptable behaviour;
3. Be aware of male dominated areas at work and the culture within;
4. Be aware of fair treatment of all workers, regardless of sex, race, religion or age;
5. Be a good parent and enforce your standards of behaviour in your workplace;
6. Call 923|HR for assistance with all of the above!
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