There can be various forms of workplace harassment, however by far the biggest issues are around sexual harassment. Despite being outlawed for over 25 years, sexual harassment is one of the most common complaints received by the Australian Human Rights Commission, and anti-discrimination agencies throughout Australia. One in five women in Australia experience sexual harassment at work and one in twenty men experience sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a real and significant barrier to many women being able to participate fully in the workplace on the same footing as their male colleagues. As well as having a significant impact on the targets health and well-being, sexual harassment lowers productivity, increases staffing costs and can contribute to poor publicity for organisations (news papers love stories of sexual harassment) and increased risk of litigation. Employers can be Vicariously Liable for acts of sexual harassment committed by their employees. Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination and employers need to show that they have taken All Reasonable Steps to prevent sexual harassment occurring in the workplace.
Moira has investigated and conciliated allegations of sexual harassment as a conciliator with the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commission, and assisted employers to develop polices, conduct training and minimise their Vicarious Liability in regard to sexual harassment and other types of discrimination in the workplace. She has considerable experience training a wide variety of organisations, including small business, in their rights and specific responsibilities in preventing sexual harassment and managing allegations of sexual harassment. This training has included a four day workshop in Fiji that she co-facilitated with a colleague for a group of Fijian business leaders following the introduction of sexual harassment industrial legislation. Taking a risk management approach, she has assisted organisations to identify risks that may be present, that if not addressed, could contribute to sexual harassment occurring, and has helped number of organisations to develop specific polices and complaint procedures in relation to sexual harassment and discrimination.
Discrimination in the Workplace
Australia is a diverse society, and employees and customers come from a wide range of backgrounds, sometimes with different expectations in regard to behaviours and standards. Employers can be held legally responsible for the acts of their employees and customers including discrimination in the workplace (including employer-sponsored events like conferences, work lunches or dinners, Christmas parties, training workshops or business trips). This responsibility known as ‘Vicarious Liability’ and in order to reduce their liability, employers need to take what is known as ‘All Reasonable Steps‘ to prevent discrimination (and harassment and bullying) from occurring, and demonstrate that if it does occurr, they have dealt with it promptly and appropriately.
Some acts of discrimination are quite subtle, and organisations can discriminate against groups of people without realising it until it they receive a complaint. For example, requiring all employees to have a drivers license may be illegally discriminating against those who cannot hold a drivers licence for medical reasons. Therefore, if driving is not an inherent part of their job an organisation may be indirectly discriminating (on the grounds of disability) against an employee or prospective employee who cannot drive.
At Aboto we have experience working through issues of discrimination with large organisations and small business. Moira has previously worked for the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commission as a conciliator, and later as the Manager of complaint services. We have experience in developing workplace policies, and conducting training that addresses the ‘Reasonable Steps’ organisations need to take to minimise their ‘Vicarious Liability‘ in the most effective manner. We can assist you in developing or updating your workplace discrimination and harassment policy, and help you and your employees understand how the law applies in relation to age, disability, race, sex, pregnancy, gender, sexual orientation and other grounds of discrimination.
Workplace discrimination can be associated with workplace bullying and contribute to significant psychological harm to the workers involved, as well as contribute to increased legal costs and liability for both employers, managers, and individuals. We can assist you to understand when you could be liable for acts of discrimination or harassment in your workplace and what to do if you receive a complaint from an employee, customer, or prospective employee. Once these problems have escalated it is much much harder to address the problems, and restore professional and collegial relationships. Focusing on the issues before they occur or early if they occur, is a cost effective and sound strategy. It makes good business sense.