Weinstein lessons: What employers need to know

By Michael Selinger on October 26th, 2017
  1. Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination
  2. Workplace Harassment

THE emerging sexual harassment allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein have prompted intense international discussion on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Workplace sexual harassment is also of significant concern in Australia. Employers have work, health and safety obligations to ensure a safe workplace and to prevent workers from being subjected to sexual harassment.

Under discrimination laws, employers can be vicariously liable for such conduct unless the employer takes all reasonable steps to prevent this type of behaviour in the workplace.

Measures towards compliance with these obligations include training managers and employees on appropriate workplace conduct and implementing policies that reiterate those obligations.

However, a real concern is if there is a culture of non-reporting of harassment in an organisation. This could be because either a victim is fearful that reporting will have a negative impact for them or if they feel that the response by the employer would be inadequate.

In the case of Mr Weinstein’s alleged victims, many say they either didn’t report the conduct at the time for these reasons, or that they did report them but their complaints were ignored.

In some cases, no action was taken as Mr Weinstein’s inappropriate conduct was effectively condoned – essentially labelled an ‘open secret’ that did not warrant any response. Fear of victimisation was also a factor.

What did they know?

The spotlight has now turned to Mr Weinstein’s colleagues, including the board, officers and other co-workers in terms of what they knew and whether, through their inaction, they condoned his (alleged) inappropriate behaviour.

Under Australian legislation these individuals in positions of organisational authority would have potential exposure, in their personal capacities, if they had knowledge of Mr Weinstein’s inappropriate conduct and failed to act.

Employers should take a number of lessons from the Weinstein matter:

  • Update policies and guidelines for sexual harassment and bystander action on sexual harassment.
  • Implement these policies and guidelines through education and training about sexual harassment and bystander action and promote reporting and appropriate responses.
  • Ensure corporate values are aligned with policies and guidelines through action, not inaction.
  • Establish a workplace environment that encourages reporting of sexual harassment by:
  • encouraging leaders to speak out positively about tackling sexual harassment and taking bystander action;
  • providing multiple communication channels to report sexual harassment;
  • responding to reports of sexual harassment in a timely way;
  • training for those responsible for acting on reports of sexual harassment; and
  • conducting ongoing monitoring and evaluation of bystander strategies.

Thanks for reading,

M. Sellinger signature


Michael Selinger
Health & Safety Handbook

For further information

Sexual harassment claims have the potential to cause enormous damage to an organisation – not only for the victim and the individual defending the claims.

Sexual harassment litigation can substantially harm your reputation and disrupt your business’s operations.

A guide to reducing the risk of sexual harassment occurring in your workplace, as well as a checklist of what to include in a sexual harassment policy, is available in the Managing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace eBook, published by Portner Press.

Written by leading employment law expert and Holding Redlich partner Charles Power, the 41-page eBook also provides a step-by-step guide on how to investigate a sexual harassment complaint and outlines the process on how a substantiated complaint ought to be handled.

Information contained in the Managing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace eBook will help you reduce risks in your workplace and equip you with the tools necessary to handle them should any allegations be made.

Don’t delay, order your copy today.

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