Sexual harrassment - inappropriate and unwanted advances

How does your organisation address sexual harassment at work?

The horrific stories that have emerged around Harvey Weinstein have certainly got people talking more openly about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo campaign has also struck a chord with many, as personal stories of sexual harassment are shared online, and the general impression is that people are better informed and things are changing for the better. But are they really?

UnionsACT recently conducted a survey amongst the most vulnerable sector of the Australian workforce, our young workers. The survey revealed that a disturbing 70 percent of the respondents experienced some form of bullying and harassment on the job. The survey also underpinned the reason why only a fraction of these incidents are reported – the fear of losing their job.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal or written.

Sexual harassment is covered in the workplace when it happens:

  • at work
  • at work-related events
  • between people sharing the same workplace
  • between colleagues outside of work.

How to prevent harassment in your organisation

The most effective weapon against harassment and bullying is prevention. Leaders need to provide clear guidelines, training, unwavering enforcement of rules and lead by example from the start. There are countless examples of how these factors can keep a workplace safe and free from this type of harassment.

But a business that allows a culture of lewd jokes and sexist behaviour, and turns a blind eye to inappropriate conversations is asking for trouble. The best policies and training in the world will not protect your organisation if bad behaviour is not called out as and when it happens.

So what should you do to keep your business harassment-free?

10 steps you can take

  1. Ensure you have strong policies and make sure all employees are trained to understand what harassment and bullying behaviour looks like
  2. Ensure the procedure for reporting harassment is clear and ensure your workplace culture encourage employees to report this kind of behaviour in a safe and confidential way
  3. Make sure you have several options to report harassment and nominate several ‘go-to’ people of both genders
  4. Eliminate any discriminatory jokes or conversations at all levels of your company
  5. Discipline people who engage in inappropriate behaviour before it escalates
  6. If you think a person may be harassed, encourage them to speak up
  7. Map out clear protocols for responding to harassment, including how you will handle confidentiality
  8. When a complaint is made, investigate and deal with the situation immediately
  9. Make it clear that no level of management is exempt from complying with the policy
  10. Train all your employees at the start of their employment and provide frequent refresher training

While most businesses may not have the same high profile as the Weinstein company, the challenges surrounding this case could easily arise in any business. Following these steps will be your best defence against any predators lurking in your workplace. Above all, remember that the tone at the top is the most influential and effective way of ensuring there is zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour.