Managing sexual harassment in modern Australian workplaces – what's changed?

Recently we presented to a full room of clients on managing sexual harassment in modern Australian workplaces. It is an issue that has their attention and is being taken very seriously.

What has changed in modern workplaces?

New challenges are being presented by mobile phones and employees' use of text messages, emojis, informal communication channels like Whatsapp, dating sites like Tinder, and social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. The line between what's inside and outside of work is becoming increasingly blurred. Also, these modern communication channels create challenges in interpretation – aka what does that emoji string actually mean?
 
In addition, we are seeing an increasing trend in payouts for successful sexual harassment claims. The cases of Richardson v Oracle (total awarded $130,000), Mathews v Winslow Constructors (total awarded $1,360,027) and STU v JKL (Qld) Pty Ltd (total awarded $313,316.10) are just a few examples.

So what should employers be doing?

Action should be three-limbed.
  1. Firstly, build employee awareness of what amounts to sexual harassment.
  2. Secondly, be proactive in the steps taken to prevent such behaviour.
  3. Thirdly, be responsive to complaints and think of alternative ways to address bad behaviour.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS – AWARENESS, PREVENTION & RESPONSIVENESS

  • Ensure your workplace has an appropriate sexual harassment policy. Update it to cater for modern challenges, such as the use of social media.
  • Train employees on how to identify and deal with sexual harassment. Also, build employees' understanding of what's considered to be inside and outside of work.
  • Ensure your workplace has an internal procedure for dealing with sexual harassment complaints.
  • Take appropriate action when sexual harassment occurs. This includes responding to the low-level harassing behaviours which, if left unaddressed, can lead to larger cultural and behavioural problems.
  • Consider alternative ways to address inappropriate behaviour eg QBE reportedly withholding $550,000 of its CEO's bonus for failing to disclose an office relationship.

Read the full case of Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd here

Read the full case of Mathews v Winslow Constructors (Vic) Pty Ltd here

Read the full case of STU v JKL (Qld) Pty Ltd and Ors here
 

 
Sally Moten

To be the best, you have to understand the best. I strive to understand your business and objectives as well as you do.

Sally Moten Senior Associate

Sally is an experienced employment lawyer who specialises in all aspects of workplace relations and safety law. She is also an experienced litigator.

Sally has extensive experience delivering practical and strategic advice to government and private sector employers on the full range of workplace issues including:

  • industrial relations such as negotiating awards and enterprise agreements, managing industrial disputes and advising on the interpretation of awards and agreements
  • discipline & performance management, including separation management arising from misconduct, poor performance or restructures
  • work health & safety, including defending prosecutions, developing safety management systems and conducting training
  • governance & compliance including developing legislative compliance frameworks and obligation registers
  • statutory inquiries, including instructing counsel at the Independent Commission Against Corruption
  • discrimination, including investigating complaints and defending employers who are the subject of formal complaints in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board or the Australian Human Rights Commission
  • privacy such as workplace surveillance.

Sally is an experienced litigator and is confident managing all aspects of litigation including interviewing witnesses, drafting affidavits and submissions, attending conciliations and mediations and appearing in tribunals or courts.

Her past experience includes working in-house for a large NSW Government organisation. This gives Sally a unique insight and understanding of the complex issues faced by government employers.

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