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4 key requirements to managing workplace sexual harassment

One in four Australian women have been sexually harassed at work and with reports of workplace sexual harassment on the rise, more employers are finding that they have failed to implement a safe system to manage it.

This can be incredibly costly and damaging to an organisation and its staff.

Sexual harassment is a psychosocial hazard and it has profound risks for those who are subjected to it.

Unfortunately, many employers don’t take steps to manage sexual harassment until after a case reaches court.

In an extraordinary case in 2015, a Melbourne construction company was ordered to pay an employee $1.36 million in damages when she suffered severe psychological injuries due to workplace sexual harassment, which the employer had failed to address.

Over the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in general damages awards against organisations for sexual harassment in the workplace, with workers being awarded substantial payouts (frequently six or seven figures) for the pain and suffering sexual harassment has caused them.

To ensure you have done everything you can to reduce incidences of sexual harassment occurring in your workplace, make sure you have met the following 4 key requirements to manage it.

1. Implement a strong and robust sexual harassment policy

A strong and robust policy and procedure must:

  • identify and define exactly what constitutes sexual harassment;
  • expectations of employees’ internal and external behaviour (including social media use); and
  • what will happen if employees breach their obligations of conduct (set out in the policies and procedures).

2. Conduct a comprehensive training program

Ideally delivered annually and during inductions, this program must ensure employees know what their obligations are under the policies and procedures and understand the consequences of non-compliance.

3. Ensure policies and procedures are fairly and consistently enforced

Any breach must be acted upon, no cultural condoning of bad behaviour can be allowed.

4. Constantly monitor the organisation’s culture

Ensure that the culture in your workplace remains in accordance with the values and beliefs of the organisation and your sexual harassment policy.

If you ever have to defend a sexual harassment claim, you will need to prove that you did everything possible within the law to prevent your employees from engaging in unlawful behaviour.

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