Australia’s new Respect@Work laws mean that employers now have a positive duty to proactively prevent and eliminate hostile work environments and sexual and sex-based harassment at work.
How should employers respond?
The onus is on employers to ensure that they eliminate unlawful sex discrimination, including sexual harassment in the workplace, as far as possible.
Both the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) have drafted good practice guidance which recommends action around seven key domains to prevent and respond to sexual harassment.
These seven key domains capture factors which are likely to lead to more respectful and inclusive workplaces that minimise the risk of sexual harassment.
Four domains for prevention:
- Risk assessment and transparency
Three for response
At the very minimum, every organisation should have an acceptable conduct and no harassment policy in place and ensure that all workers are trained in respectful & inclusive workplace conduct. But policies and training on their own are not enough. Active leadership is also important.
As the AICD have identified in a director’s guide to preventing and responding to sexual harassment at work, employers need to encourage reporting and ensure that there is no backlash for doing so. Regular monitoring of risk factors and responses is also critical. This could include:
Workplace sexual harassment is notoriously under-reported. People who have experienced harassment often fear victimisation for coming forward. To build trust in the reporting process, ensure that workers have several options to report of workplace sexual harassment, that all reports are treated confidentially, and that reports can be made anonymously if preferred.
Ensure that people who receive reports are well trained to respond and that additional support is available to workers who experience sexual harassment to make work safe during and after the complaints process. Adopting a victim-centred and trauma informed approach to the way investigations are conducted when a report is made can minimise unnecessary harm to workers.
A robust and transparent data collection and reporting framework about worker experience of sexual harassment prevention and response efforts is required to inform organisational improvements. An organisation cannot manage what it does not measure. Employers should have mechanisms in place to understand the prevalence, nature and impacts of workplace sexual harassment as well as the effectiveness of workplace initiatives designed to address it.
Compliance and Enforcement
The positive duty shifts the focus to prevention, and the responsibility from those who experience sexual and sex-based discrimination and harassment to those who are best placed to prevent it — namely employers.
Employers need to act now to ensure that their systems and practices proactively prevent sexual harassment.
How can Your Call help?
The program combines education and policy development to set minimum expectations, sexual harassment reporting channels for sensitive and trauma-informed receipt of reports and an incident management system to manage reports, identify risk areas for the organisation and simplify reporting. The program is offered as a series of modules that can be incorporated into your existing framework or purchased as a package.
Cut It Out! is led by Rely and Your Call’s General Counsel and Senior Advisor, Kirsty Harvison, and supported by Rely CEO, Nathan Luker and Your Call CEO, Lauren Witherdin.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is everyone’s problem – let’s work together to cut it out!
Learn more about the Cut it Out! program at cutitout.au