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.
- Firstly, build employee awareness of what amounts to sexual harassment.
- Secondly, be proactive in the steps taken to prevent such behaviour.
- 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