Proactive steps for employers to stop sexual harassment in the workplace
The new Respect at Work legislation expects employers to do more when it comes to preventing unlawful sexual harassment in the workplace.
Instances of sexual harassment understandably have devastating impacts on individuals. Yet disrespectful behaviours – and the impacts of these on you company’s culture – can also cost your business due to poor morale, absenteeism or reputational damage.
Get on the front foot
It is a basic human right of all your employees (including subcontractors, apprentices and outworkers) to feel safe at work. These are some proactive steps you as a business owner or senior manager can take to stop harassment occurring at your workplace.
1. Assess your workplace environment.
This includes both your physical workplace and the online work environment. For instance, how’s the lighting? Are there well-lit and secure areas throughout the worksite? Do female staff members feel safe? Do you provide facilities such as changerooms and toilets for women? And are there clear guidelines for how everyone should be using social media and other online systems to interact?
2. Provide training.
Not everyone recognises what sexual harassment or discrimination is or understands what behaviours are unacceptable in the workplace. Offer training to encourage an open dialogue about recognising sexual harassment, mechanisms to report it, and what team members can do if they witness inappropriate behaviours. Discuss ways to address practical examples like unwanted teasing, nicknames or offensive statements.
3. Implement policies.
Make sure your policies outline how you plan to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Provide details about what behaviour is expected at work, along with clear processes for reporting instances of inappropriate behaviour. Share these policies with everyone so the expectations are clear.
4. Establish open communication.
If someone experiences or witnesses sexual harassment, make it easy for them to report it. Keep channels of communication open for informal reports as well as offering confidential or anonymous options. Address all reports early – even if they’re considered lower level – as any form of sexual harassment can rapidly escalate or affect your team culture.
Research shows that whilst most people do take action when they witness sexual harassment in the workplace, many are unsure what to do if they see or hear about behaviours that cross the line.
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