Sexual harassment can do enormous damage to your workplace – both directly and indirectly.

Under sexual harassment law, if a business takes certain proactive steps they can avoid being vicariously liable if an employee sexual harasses another worker.

Here are our seven steps to reduce your exposure to sexual harassment liability claims at your business.

Take it seriously

Sexual harassment doesn’t need to reach a formal claim level to impact a workplace, sexual harassment can create:

  • Reduced productivity and poor quality work because employees are distracted.
  • Lower morale and increased absences.
  • Increase in staff stress levels.
  • People leaving your workplace.

Once a claim is made it can result in:

  • Costly/lengthy legal proceedings.
  • Damage to your business reputation.

So take sexual harassment seriously!

Raise Awareness

Let all your staff know what sexual harassment is and that it is not acceptable under any circumstances.  For example:

  • Discuss sexual harassment at staff meetings.
  • Consider running a sexual harassment training session.
  • Provide all staff with reading material on the subject.
  • Talk about what sexual harassment actually is.
  • Put up anti-sexual harassment posters around your workplace.

Write and Implement a Sexual Harassment Policy

  • Develop a written policy which explains what sexual harassment is and that it will not be tolerated.
  • Distribute the policy to all staff members and have them sign it.
  • Give the policy and all related information to new staff when they are signing their contract.
  • Give staff the opportunity to discuss anything about the policy at staff meetings.

Create a Positive Workplace Environment

  • Remove all sexually suggestive calendars, posters and related materials from the workplace.
  • Ensure there is appropriate use of e-mail, screen savers and the Internet.
  • Maintain consistency in the way you implement sexual harassment policy.

Encourage Appropriate Conduct by Managers

If you have managers working underneath you they need to be particularly aware of the liability you face if they sexual harass their staff.  You should make it clear to all managers that they have a higher bar when it comes to appropriate workplace behaviour and they should be completely vigilant and ensure they do not act in a way which might be construed as sexual harassment.  You also need to make sure managers can identify any behaviour by others which might result in a sexual harassment complaints.

Avoid ‘Quid Pro Quo’ Complaints

One of the most common sexual harassment complaints is where one party alleges they were pressured into a sexual favour in return for a promotion or some other kind of workplace benefit.  In other cases, a complainant says that the manager threatened to demote or fire them if they did not perform the sexual favour.

This underlines the importance of making sure managers are aware of the consequences of sexually harassing their staff.

But you also need to be ready to explain why a certain employment action was taken – make sure you document all the reasons why a person was or was not promoted, fired or given a pay-rise etc.

Receiving a complaint

It should be clear to all staff that they can make a complaint to you and you will treat it seriously, confidentiality and fairly.

When taking a complaint:

  • Listen closely and sympathetically to the person making the complaint.
  • Take notes, using the person’s own words wherever possible.
  • Get a broad outline of the alleged incident and get a step-by-step account of it.
  • Read back your notes to the complainant and explain what can happen next.
  • See what course of action the complainant would like to take.
  • Fully investigate the matter.
  • Advise the complainant they may go to an Anti-Discrimination Commission for further advice.

For further legal advice on avoiding liability, contact LegalVision on 1300 544 755

Lachlan McKnight

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