Sexual harassment in the workplace is a complicated topic to discuss because so many people share different points of view on what it is. Hopefully, this article will clarify what constitutes sexual harassment, help you understand your rights and what you can do if you’re experiencing it, or know someone that is.
Firstly, let’s cover the technical and accepted definition of what sexual harassment is, wherever it may be taking place. It’s defined by the Australian Human Rights Commission as, unwelcome sexual behaviour – physical, verbal or written – which could be expected to make a person feel intimidated, humiliated or offended.
In the context of sexual harassment only and according to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, a “workplace” is;
However, it’s also important to note that “the workplace” doesn’t just include the physical work location/office, but can also include:
Sexual harassment may range in seriousness; be a number of incidents or a single act; be conducted by a group of people or an individual and/or; be verbal, nonverbal, subtle or openly hostile.
Sexual harassment does not necessarily need to be directed at a person to be considered sexual harassment. A sexually hostile working environment, where overly crude or offensive jokes are accepted as part of the culture, in itself, is a form of sexual harassment. Even if the jokes or taunts aren’t directed at a person working there, that person still has the right to complain.
It is generally accepted that sexual harassment is comprised of three components, the act of which can be deliberate, offensive, unwanted or a combination of all three.
Deliberate – Where the offender consciously behaves in a sexually harassing manner towards the victim.
Offensive – Where the victim is offended by the offender’s actions.
Unwanted – Where the actions of the offender are unwelcome to the co-worker whether or not the perpetrator intended to sexually harass, or the co-worker was not actually offended.
Let’s take a look at a few example of situations which constitute workplace sexual harassment, and a few legitimate sentiments and behaviours:
A survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, revealed a few interesting findings about how people perceive and handle workplace sexual harassment. The act itself occurs through a variety of different mediums and consists of a wide range or behaviours.
The most common types of sexually harassing behaviours reported were:
Most workplace sexual harassment was perpetrated by men against women:
Men were more likely than women to offend and were more likely to be targets of same-sex sexual harassment:
Sexual harassment has been shown to present multiple effects on its victims, both physically and emotionally. These effects include, but are not limited to:
Employers cannot simply claim that they didn’t know what was happening – it is their responsibility to ensure that the working environment is safe and healthy for all who work there. As such, if sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, employers can be liable for a breach of their duty of care. Depending on the case in question, this can result employer being liable for compensation if the victim suffers damages. It is within an employee’s right to claim damages from an employer with regards to sexual harassment in the workplace.
You may become the subject of a formal investigation into your behaviour, either by the Australian Human Rights Commission, a representative thereof, your employer or another third party. If your behaviour is considered to be sexual harassment or you have breached the company’s code of conduct, you may be terminated. Further action can be taken if any complaints were submitted to and successfully proceed by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Every person in a workplace, irrespective of their role or position, has a duty of care to ensure that every reasonable action is taken to ensure the safety of all others in the workplace and ensure nothing in the workplace could injure an employee or lead them to contract an illness. This includes workplace sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can lead victims to the develop psychological injuries such as anxiety, stress, depression, PTSD and even suicide.
Workplace sexual harassment is deceptively common throughout Victoria and the rest of Australia, so it’s important to know what you should be doing, if it’s happening to you.
If you’ve tried all of the above, but require hard evidence of the harassment taking place, speak to us today on 1300 856 011 – we can provide you with the assistance you need quickly and discreetly.
If you’re an employer looking for a long-term solution to eliminating workplace sexual harassment and associated behaviour, Precise Investigation can help. Speak to one of our dedicated team members today for more information.
Thank you for reading.