Having a formal policy on sexual harassment in the workplace is step one, but does not act as blanket protection for employers should a formal claim be lodged, said special counsel Corrina Dowling (pictured) of Barry.Nilsson Lawyers.
“You can have the best sexual harassment policy in place, but if the only time it’s rolled out is during employee inductions and it is not upheld by the senior management team, then it’s not worth the paper it’s written on,” Ms Dowling said.
“Executive management need to walk the walk and lead by example. They need to call out poor behaviours and hold everyone to the same standards.”
According to Ms Dowling, many complaints regarding sexual harassment are dealt with by state-based commissions and tribunals, but she noted that some — including the high-profile case of actor Craig McLachlan — can find their way to court (Mr McLachlan is facing indecent assault charges in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court).
She also warned that victims of sexual harassment are increasingly finding the confidence to come forward and lodge formal complaints against perpetrators, in light of global publicity on the issue.
“Social media has given the #MeToo movement a platform on the world stage and the exposure is giving expression to many who otherwise would have remained silent,” Ms Dowling said.
The Australian Human Rights Commission last year found that sexual harassment is “widespread” and “pervasive” in Aussie workplaces, and that the problem is only getting worse.
It found that close to two in five women and a quarter of men have been subjected to harassment in their place of work in the five years to 2018.
Employers have faced accusations of not doing enough to deal with the issue, particularly where a formal complaint has been raised.
Airlines were singled out by a union-led survey of cabin crew members over the issue, with all of Australia’s major carriers defending their actions and a “zero tolerance” policy on workplace harassment.