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Identifying and managing sexual harassment at work

Did you know that, as a business owner, it’s your responsibility to deal with any sexual harassment at work? To help you understand and manage this risk, WorkSafe has developed a useful toolkit.

Creating a culture of appropriate behaviour

Harassment, including sexual harassment, is a common risk at work. It can harm the health of the people affected, as well as wider work relationships and the overall health of the business. As with all workplace risks, addressing sexual harassment is the responsibility of business owners — it’s a requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. 

One of the toughest challenges for business owners is that sexual harassment is often subtle and undermining. And the longer it exists without intervention, the harder it becomes to deal with. That’s why WorkSafe has developed a toolkit to help businesses and workers deal with the problem.

Sexual harassment (external link) — WorkSafe

All businesses should create a work culture that promotes appropriate behaviour, enables people to speak up easily, and resolves concerns and allegations speedily. To support this vision, WorkSafe’s toolkit offers information and guidance about recognising, preventing, and responding to sexual harassment at work. The toolkit will help you work out whether sexual harassment is occurring and how to manage the health and safety risks associated with it.

Advice for businesses (external link) — WorkSafe

Sexual harassment — Example policy (external link)  — WorkSafe

"Businesses must recognise all their health and safety risks — including the possibility of sexual harassment occurring at work — and have clear processes in place to handle them."

"Businesses must recognise all their health and safety risks — including the possibility of sexual harassment occurring at work — and have clear processes in place to handle them."

Jude Urlich, General Manager Strategy and Performance at WorkSafe

What is sexual harassment?

The Human Rights Act 1993 defines sexual harassment as:

  • unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that is repeated or serious enough to have a harmful effect on people
  • or unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that contains an implied or overt promise of either preferential or deferential treatment.

To get a better idea of what sexual harassment can look like in practice, read WorkSafe’s examples.

Examples of sexual harassment at work (external link) — WorkSafe

Dealing with reports of sexual harassment

As an employer, you need to take all reports of sexual harassment seriously. It’s important to act promptly to protect and support your people. 

How can you deal with reports of sexual harassment? (external link)   — WorkSafe

If you have an Employee Assistance Programme, make sure the person affected by the harassment knows about it. Encourage them to make the most of the support if they want to.

Seeking outside help

You and your employees also have the right to seek help from an outside organisation if the matter is serious. For example, for physical assaults or criminal harassment, contact the Police.

Employees can also decide to:

  • lodge an application with the Employment Relations Authority (under the Employment Relations Act 2000)
  • make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission (under the Human Rights Act 1993).

Lodge an application (external link) — Employment Relations Authority

Make a complaint (external link) — Human Rights Commission

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