Sexual harassment: Everyone’s business

With the rise of the global #MeToo movement, greater awareness of sexual harassment and workplace culture is on the radar for many employers. On 12 September 2018, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, released the results of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

The survey found that:

  • 1 in 3 people had experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years. In the last 12 months, 23% of women and 16% of men had experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment.
  • People aged 18-29 were more likely than those in other age groups to have experienced workplace sexual harassment in the past five years.

Common features of sexual harassment

Harassers were most often a co-worker employed at the same level as the victim and in the majority of cases, had sexually harassed others in the same workplace in a similar manner.

The most common form of workplace sexual harassment experienced was offensive, sexually suggestive comments or jokes.

More than half of workplace sexual harassment occurred at the victim’s workstation or where they work and one-quarter of incidents occurred in a social area for employees.

40% of workplace sexual harassment incidents were witnessed by at least one other person. But in the majority of cases (69%) the witness did not intervene.

What are the high-risk industries for sexual harassment?

The rates of workplace sexual harassment were particularly high in the information, media and telecommunications industries (87%), followed by arts and recreation services (49%), electricity, gas and waste services (42%) and retail trade (42%).

Reporting of sexual harassment

Fewer than one in five people (17%) made a formal report or complaint in relation to workplace sexual harassment. The most common reasons for not reporting workplace sexual harassment were that people would think it was an over-reaction and it was easier to keep quiet.

Importantly, however, the most common outcome for victims who made a formal report or complaint about workplace sexual harassment was that the harassment stopped.

Share the employer experience in preventing sexual harassment

The survey results will inform the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. Ai Group’s Chief Executive, Innes Willox, has been appointed as a Member of the Reference Panel for the Inquiry.

Employers have legal obligations in responding to complaints of sexual harassment but also in managing persons against whom allegations of sexual harassment are made. The employer experience in managing and preventing sexual harassment is an important focus for the inquiry.

Ai Group will be co-hosting employer consultations with the Australian Human Rights Commission for Ai Group members. These member consultations will form part of its National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces.

Ai Group members interested in attending employer consultations in Melbourne, Sydney and Newcastle should register here.

Further information about the Inquiry’s consultation process is here.

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As Ai Group's National Manager – Workplace Relations Policy, Nicola is involved in employment test cases and law reform affecting the workplaces of industry. She regularly appears in the Fair Work Commission and Government Inquiries on behalf of Ai Group members, and has many years of “on the ground” strategic experience in advising employers in employment law and people & culture strategies.

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