The victims of workplace sexual harassment are not the only ones suffering negative consequences, writes Ben Pike
BYSTANDERS to sexual harassment need to speak up to help end this destructive behaviour in the workplace.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says huge improvements are needed across the board to tackle sexual harassment.
She is calling for more employers to encourage reporting by protecting whistleblowers, who increasingly suffer negative consequences for reporting the harassment of others.
The Human Rights Commission’s Working Without Fear report, released on Tuesday, finds sexual harassment has been more reported in the past four years but there is an increasing number of people who experience negative consequences after making a complaint.
This year, 21 per cent of people aged 15 years or older have reported being sexually harassed, up from 20 per cent in 2008. Of those, 68 per cent experienced the harassment in the workplace.
Broderick says 13 per cent of the population aged 15 years and older are bystanders to sexual harassment.
‘‘ Given that bystander intervention is a potentially invaluable component of sexual harassment prevention in the workplace, it is important that bystanders are supported and empowered to take action. This will require a substantial shift in organisational culture,’’ she says.
‘‘ We need to send a clear message that sexual harassment ruins lives, divides teams and damages the effectiveness of organisations.’’
The figures show fewer people, or 26 per cent this year, confront their harasser, compared with 45 per cent across the board to stamp out unlawful behaviour.
‘‘ For employers, because you’re not hearing about it in the workplace, doesn’t mean it’s not happening,’’ she says.
‘‘ Employers who care about this issue are training their employees regularly.
‘‘ There’s a general understanding that sexual harassment is not acceptable and unlawful.’’
The industries in which hidden problem. This is because there is more shame attached to being a man sexually harassed,’’ she says.
‘‘ I would encourage those organisations (to acknowledge) that both men and women can be targets.’’
Changes to the Sex Discrimination Act last year mean there is more scope for employees to get it wrong and more liabilities for employers.
The revised definition of sexual harassment includes circumstances in which a reasonable person would anticipate the possibility that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by the behaviour.
It is a lower threshold than the previous test.
Employment law expert and Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal Giri Sivaraman says many of the changes are there to protect those who are subject to a power imbalance in the office.
‘‘ It can involve, sometimes, really senior female employees that are victims of harassment,’’ he says.
‘‘ Often in those circumstances the alleged perpetrator is the most senior person in the organisation.
‘‘ Protection is important when there is a huge power imbalance between you and the perpetrator.’’