Workplace Sexual Harassment 2020 – Recently it was reported on the ABC that Workplace sexual harassment reports are rising during coronavirus and working from home may be a reason. 

The article stated, coronavirus, working from home and recent high-profile cases are encouraging more women to come forward and revealing the true extent of Australia’s sexual harassment problem, authorities have said that Law firms say they are being swamped with workplace sexual harassment claims.

Key points

  • Victoria’s equal opportunity commissioner says sexual harassment complaints are up about 8 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia
  • Lawyers working in the area said many women felt more comfortable making a complaint now that they are working remotely
  • A recent report found two-in-five women and around one-in-four men had experienced workplace sexual harassment in the past five years

Full article here – ABC News 27 August 2020

Add to this, the Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (2020) stated that since 2003, the Australian Human Rights Commission has conducted four periodic surveys on the national experience of sexual harassment. Our most recent survey conducted in 2018 showed that sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is widespread and pervasive. One in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years.

“Underpinning this aggregate figure is an equally shocking reflection of the gendered and intersectional nature of workplace sexual harassment. As the 2018 National Survey revealed, almost two in five women (39%) and just over one in four men (26%) have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to have experienced workplace sexual harassment than people who are non-Indigenous (53% and 32% respectively).  Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue: it is a societal issue, which every Australian, and every Australian workplace, can contribute to addressing.”

The publicity around recent high profile sexual harassment cases including AMP and Heydon may have encouraged women to come forward.

Working from home, and the distance from the office it creates, may be creating an environment where more victims come forward as the fear associated with having to continue to be in the same workplace with the alleged perpetrator is no longer present with people working remotely, out of that direct space, victims may not feel physically threatened or intimidated. They’ve got a lower fear of backlash.

So where are complaint likely to come from in the current working climate;
* Text messages
* Other forms on online or remote communications via private messages, Facebook, Instagram, What Apps
* Private photos being re-posted, in order to shame or intimidate a person, or action taken as a result of a rebuffed advance.
* Email and phone
* During online meetings via platforms like Zoom

Workplace Sexual Harassment 2020 – Lessons for employers

1 Be proactive

* Remain vigilant and look for signs bad behaviour or of employees avoiding situations and perhaps withdrawing.
* If your gut tells you that something is wrong, listen to it
* Re-enforce the companies policies in regard to sexual harassment
* Train or re-train your staff
* Have a trusted reporting mechanism for victims and ensure that everybody knows where to report and/or who to
* Create a culture that will not tolerate sexual harassment.
* Create a culture where witnesses will come forward especially in cases where the victims won’t

2. Be reactive

* Take action, never ignore the situation in the hope it will go away –
* Re-enforce your proactive actions with reactive actions
* Ensure that you have a process in place to move from report to action
* Investigate the complaint or incident in a professional and timely manner
* If you don’t have the internal skills, experience, expertise or time call in a professional and qualified investigator.
* If you don’t have the internal skills, experience or expertise this time, get training for next time

3. Be Reasonable & supportive

* Consider the needs and welfare of the victim
* Support victims and all you employees
* Encourage victims and witness to come forward

Some people argue that a mediated outcome is better than an investigation in sexual harassment matters so as to not unduly upset the victim.  The problem with this is;
* The victim may feel forced into a meditation when their actual complaint has not been properly addressed.
* It may be too easy for a perpetrator to say what the mediator wants to hear without any intention to change their ways.
* Without an investigation if it happens again you won’t have the potential evidence form this time.

4. Get Help

Australian Workplace training and Investigation (AWPTI) can hep investigations and training -

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