Sexual harassment and discrimination complaints are serious and can be extremely costly
If you have received a complaint about sexual harassment or discrimination from a staff member, or if you are defending a formal claim of sexual harassment or discrimination, it is important that you treat the matter seriously, and seek urgent expert legal advice.
Call our team at Industrial Relations Claims immediately on 1300 045 466.
Claims for sexual harassment and discrimination can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and have the potential to bankrupt your business if not managed properly.
You can be held responsible for the conduct of your staff
As an employer, you can held vicariously responsible for the conduct of your staff for any unlawful discrimination or harassment they engage in.
In other words, your business can be ordered to pay penalties or compensation to any potential victim/s.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct that is sexual in nature which makes another person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.
It does not need to be repeated or on-going for it to be unlawful.
Both men and women can be affected by sexual harassment.
Examples of sexual harassment
Examples of sexual harassment can include:
- any unwelcome touching, no matter how minor
- comments, insults or taunts that are sexual in nature
- staring or leering
- sexually suggestive jokes or comments
- intrusive questions about your private life
- displaying posters of a sexual nature
- sending sexually explicit emails or text messages or inappropriate advances on social media
- repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates or requests for sex
Where can sexual harassment happen?
Sexual harassment can happen in the work environment, including an office, or a factory or a work site, but it can also happen anywhere else that is work-related, including hotels, restaurants, bars, taxis, or function centres.
It can also happen on social media, or via text messages.
Sexual harassment commonly happens during work functions including Christmas parties and away trips for work like inter-state conferences, particularly when alcohol is involved.
What is discrimination?
Discrimination happens when someone with a particular attribute is treated less favourably than someone who does not have that same attribute.
As an employer, it is unlawful for you to treat a staff member, a contractor, or someone doing work experience, unfairly, or to take adverse action against them, because of a protected attribute.
For example, you cannot demote a worker because she becomes pregnant, and you cannot sack someone because they have reached a certain age and you think they are too old.
It is also unlawful for any of your employees to discriminate against another employee on the basis of a protected attribute.
What are protected attributes?
Depending on which state your business is located in, protected attributes can include:
- race, skin colour or social origin
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
- pregnancy status
- parental status
- relationship status
- family or carer’s responsibilities
- physical or mental impairment (disability)
- political opinion
- trade union activity (or non-activity)
How to protect your business
As an employer, you have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination from happening in your workplace.
The first step to protect your business from a claim is to ensure that you have clear and robust policies in place, and that all of your employees are familiar with those policies.
Secondly, you should establish a formal grievance process to deal with any complaints should they arise.
You should also organise regular professional workplace training for all staff that deals with discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation.
Our specialist team at Industrial Relations Claims can help you develop and implement effective policies, and grievance processes to handle complaints.
We also offer professional workplace training in discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation.
LAST UPDATED: March 2021
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