Research from Monash University also reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has created working conditions that make it harder for businesses to detect inappropriate behaviour and impede investigations when they’re conducted remotely.
It noted that the recent findings of an investigation by the High Court into allegations of sexual harassment by former Justice Dyson Heydon highlighted some reasons why women might not raise issues of sexual harassment at work.
The research also showed that sexual harassment claims don’t result in a windfall, and that a woman might win in court and still be out of pocket by the time she pays her lawyer.
As a result, women will be advised to settle, thereby avoiding the time, cost and emotion that comes with pursuing a case, as well as ensure protection of confidentiality for the perpetrator.
Monash University associate professors Dominique Allen and Adriana Orifici, legal researchers from the Department of Business Law and Taxation in the Monash Business School, believe that barriers in the legal system are one of the reasons women choose not to make complaints if they experience sexual harassment while at work.
“It shouldn’t be up to the woman who has been sexually harassed, whose career may be left in tatters, to take action on behalf of every other woman in the workplace,” associate professor Allen said.
“Those who are brave enough to come forward and report sexual harassment must be supported by their workplaces and the legal system.
“Alongside this, there needs to be a regulator that can wave a ‘big stick’ if an employer does not comply and make sure that it does in the future. The equality agencies are not currently empowered to do this and the Fair Work Ombudsman’s remit does not extend to sexual harassment.”
Ms Orifici also noted that people who experience sexual harassment are more likely to come forward if there is a transparent, robust and credible process by which an organisation responds to issues.
“A workplace investigation should not be used to minimise, silence or diminish a person’s complaint but instead needs to be a tool used to address the issue and eliminate the risk of future unacceptable conduct,” Ms Orifici said.
“The events of last week reinforce that all workplaces not only need to have suitable policies about sexual harassment that set out procedures for responding to complaints, but also have policies and practices that instill a workplace culture that seeks to proactively prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the first place.”