Is your workplace AWARE of what might be perceived as sexual harassment?
Are you AWARE of how to manage and respond to a sexual harassment complaint?
Our AWARE service helps you meet your obligations and is adaptive to your organisation’s needs and circumstances.
Recent legislative changes mean that employers and businesses now have a positive duty to take ‘reasonable and proportionate measures’ to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, as far as possible. These and other reforms significantly increase employer’s obligations. Employers need to review and update their anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policies and procedures and ensure that staff are aware of them and take measures to reduce the risk of sexual harassment at work.
What is AWARE?
AWARE is a specialised unit within WEIR which provides services to help employers prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, modify entrenched behaviours and address sexual harassment complaints.
The public awareness of the problem of sexual harassment at work has never been greater, and to meet this challenge AWARE draws upon the expertise and knowledge of Senior Consultant Nia Elovaris, whose background includes Deputy Manager of the Specialist Sex Offences Unit and prosecutions with the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions.
We approach this difficult area with a multifaceted process involving a triage and tailor approach to preventing and managing inappropriate workplace behaviours. This includes responsive reporting and management support structures.
What is sexual harassment?
Every Australian employee has the right to a safe workplace that is free from sexual harassment. Yet one in three employees (33%) have experienced workplace sexual harassment in the last 5 years. Notwithstanding the right to safety at work, 68% of all sexual harassment occurs at work.
Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 sexual harassment is an unwelcome sexual advance or request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. Examples include:
- suggestive jokes or comments
- leering or staring
- unwanted invitations to go out on dates
- inappropriate physical contact (unwelcome touching)
- sexually explicit pictures, posters, emails or SMS text messages
- requests for sex
- unnecessary familiarity
- insults or taunts of a sexual nature
- intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body
- inappropriate physical contact
- unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing
- actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
- sexually explicit comments, messages, phone calls or emails
- sexual gestures, indecent exposure or inappropriate display of the body.
For the unwelcome conduct to be sexual harassment, there must exist a reasonable possibility that the person being harassed would feel offended, humiliated or intimidated by the behaviour.
Workplace sexual harassment is a known workplace hazard that can cause psychological and physical harm, exposing employers to liability and compensation claims.
Despite legislation prohibiting sexual harassment at work, it remains prevalent and under-reported. Employers now have a positive obligation to prevent it in their workplaces and manage the associated work health and safety risks. In the event of serious sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, or where the perpetrator breached their duty towards a vulnerable person, it will also be a criminal offence.
How can AWARE help?
As stated by the Respect@Work Council, stopping sexual harassment is not just about altering the behaviour of individuals; we need to change the culture and environment of workplaces in which it occurs.
AWARE provides a comprehensive service including:
- training on self-regulation and appropriate workplace behaviour, emphasising the need to drive change and target entrenched behaviours
- guidance and support to identify and characterise unwelcome behaviour in your organisation
- triage of complaints and recommending best practice management with a trauma-informed approach
- safe identification and early resolution of incidents where poor communication, misaligned tolerance or misunderstandings are the issue
- systemic intervention, coaching and group training when effective remedial control is essential
- timely, fair and skilled investigations of allegations which are serious or incapable of resolution
- a reporting system to capture information from employees and provide them with information about their rights and options.
Multiple laws in Australia are relevant to workplace sexual harassment:
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984
- Fair Work Act 2009
- State and Territory anti-discrimination laws
- Commonwealth, state and territory work health and safety laws
- Commonwealth, state and territory workers’ compensation laws
- Criminal law
It is important to note that the intention of the alleged harasser is not relevant to whether conduct is sexual harassment. An advance, request or other conduct may be sexual in nature even if the person engaging in the conduct does not have a sexual interest in that person or is of a different sexual orientation to the person harassed.
Recent amendments have also added a new type of conduct – harassment on the ground of sex. This is unwelcome conduct of a seriously demeaning nature carried out by reason of the sex of the person harassed or a characteristic generally appertaining or imputed to a person of that sex.
We offer AWARE services nationwide, both face to face and virtual, with staff and offices on the east coast of Australia, including Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Central Coast, Gold Coast or Brisbane. Contact us to speak to a consultant.