Whenever someone mentions sexual harassment in the workplace, most people instantly think of serious blatant physical and verbal abuse.
This could not be further from the truth.
In reality and at law, conduct that is obvious or indirect, physical or verbal, repeated or one off can still be classified as sexual harassment and employers must take all reasonable steps to put an end to and minimize the risk of this sort of discrimination and harassment occurring.
In Victoria, the main piece of legislation that deals with sexual harassment in the workplace is the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). On a national level, employers should be aware of similar obligations under the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). Under both State and Commonwealth regimes, an employer is vicariously liable for the acts of their employees if they fail to properly address and deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. As such employers need to be on the lookout for and heed any complaints within the workplace of behaviour and conduct that may amount to sexual harassment. If the employee conduct is not dealt with, the employer can be exposed to penalties from a Court or Tribunal.
In order to minimize liability under the law, all employers, no matter how big or small, should give strong consideration to implementing a sexual harassment policy in the workplace. The policy should clearly spell out to all employees the need to treat fellow employees with respect and dignity. Employers should also conduct training sessions that educate employees on their responsibility toward each other in the workplace. These two measures, together with an appropriate internal complaints policy and appropriate remedial action when sexual harassment occurs, can help limit an employer’s liability.
If you would like more advice about workplace relations law including any questions about your employer liabilities, please contact Chris Morey (Head of Business Law) firstname.lastname@example.org or Adam Foster (Lawyer) email@example.com or on (03) 9629 9629.