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Sexual harassment is a term that is spoken about often at the moment. It can be simply defined as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that offends, humiliates or intimidates another person.
It includes uninvited physical contact, touching in any sort of sexual way, uninvited propositions or uninvited remarks or other comments.
There was recently a very thorough Australia-wide survey that found that in the last five years, one in three people had been sexually harassed in the workplace and 85 percent of women had been harassed in their general lives during that period.
There is a lot more media attention and a lot more awareness and education about what’s appropriate and what’s not these days.
What was acceptable or common place in decades past, even if it wasn’t necessarily appropriate, is now clearly seen to be unacceptable and is no longer tolerated.
It is important for employers to know that in the workplace, even if the employer is not necessarily aware of the misconduct, they can still be responsible both morally and also financially for the acts of their employees.
A number of things can happen if there has been sexual harassment in the workplace:
From a legal point of view, the person who’s been harassed can start a claim and court proceedings.
That can result in compensation and penalties that are imposed upon the business, not just the offender, but the business itself.
The second thing isn’t strictly a legal outcome – but you can have all sorts of consequences in the workplace:
• You can have higher rates of people taking sick leave, higher staff turnover and low morale.
• In a small town like Cairns, businesses can also suffer reputational damage, because people will know there’s been problems in a particular workplace with sexual harassment.
There are three things businesses should do to try and avoid having sexual harassment occur in their workplace.
1. The first one is having very clear policies to outline what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace.
2. The second thing is to have training to ensure that new staff members are inducted from the outset in relation to the sexual harassment policies that your business has, and also to have ongoing training.
3. The third thing is the culture of the business. It’s important for owners and managers to set a good example.
Community expectations have changed about what is appropriate and what isn’t, so the amount of compensation that has been awarded has been adjusted to reflect those changes.
Depending on the circumstances, for example, someone suffers a severe psychological or mental health injury, the amount of compensation that can be awarded can run into the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
We need to acknowledge that expectations and community standards have changed and rightly so.
We need to be mindful on a daily basis of what’s appropriate in 2022.
The best advice I can give is if you are in any doubt about saying or doing something, then you probably shouldn’t say or do it.