Illustration depicting harassment in the workplace.

Despite the increased attention in recent years, a third of individuals still report experiencing sexual harassment in their workplace over the past five years, according to findings from the Human Rights Commission.

As of December 12, 2023, new “positive duty” laws have been implemented, requiring employers to proactively prevent sexual and sex-based harassment rather than merely responding to incidents. The Human Rights Commission is now empowered to enforce this “positive duty,” which aims to enhance the systems employers have in place, regardless of whether harassment has been encountered.
To meet the obligations of positive duty, here are six steps that can help navigate this challenging terrain:

1. Demonstrate Knowledge and Leadership: Management should exemplify exemplary behaviour, familiarize themselves with the legislation and associated policies, and engage in effective communication with staff. Small businesses, despite their size, must convey a serious commitment to addressing the issue.

2. Conduct a Risk Assessment: Similar to addressing health and safety concerns, businesses must identify potential risks. Conversations with staff about their comfort levels with customers, late-night work, or office banter can help pinpoint specific risks.

The risk of sexual harassment happening at your workplace could be higher if you have:

  • low worker diversity
  • low worker diversity
  • power imbalances
  • a workplace culture that supports or tolerates sexual and other types of harassment
  • alcohol and social duties as part of work
  • workers in locations where they can’t get help and support
  • leaders who don’t understand sexual harassment, its nature, drivers and impacts.

3. Update Policies: Ensure the presence of a standalone policy that incorporates the new rules. The regulatory preference is for a distinct sexual harassment policy rather than it being part of a broader harassment/bullying policy. Communicate and enforce the policy consistently.

4. Communicate and Train: After implementing policies, it is crucial to provide specific, accessible training for staff. Communication should be explicit and not buried in handbooks, and templates for emails and training courses can simplify the process, especially for small businesses. The goal is to send a clear message that sexual harassment is unacceptable

5. Handle Complaints: Prepare the business to respond effectively to complaints. Employees should be aware of the procedures for reporting harassment, and there should be a clear investigation process in place.

6. Maintain Records: Establish a prevention plan by keeping detailed records of all actions taken. While this may seem overwhelming, in practice, it involves documenting each step to demonstrate commitment to prevention.

By following these six steps, employers can proactively address and mitigate the risks associated with sexual harassment in the workplace, fostering a safer and more respectful environment for all employees.


Leave a Reply