Bet­ter be­hav­iour

The vic­tims of work­place sex­ual harass­ment are not the only ones suf­fer­ing neg­a­tive con­se­quences, writes Ben Pike

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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.’’

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