This document is part of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace resource.

The information that follows does not impose mandatory procedures for organisations to follow when a report of sexual harassment is made or when an employee’s conduct is called into question. Instead, it seeks to provide clear guidance for managers to consider when developing their own policies and procedures in relation to claims of sexual harassment. Any policy and procedure developed must be consistent with the employer obligations under the applicable enterprise agreement.

1. Treat the complainant and respondent with respect

Explanation

Complainants usually find it very difficult to make allegations about sexual harassment. They worry about the consequences and the effect the complaint will have on others in the workplace. They may feel vulnerable and concerned about losing their jobs.

Action

  • Thank the complainant for raising the concern.
  • Listen to the complainant in an open and impartial way.
  • Reassure the complainant that raising the concern is the right thing to do, that the organisation takes sexual harassment seriously, and that it has legal responsibilities and obligations for its employees under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
  • Advise the complainant that their complaint will be considered as a matter of priority.
  • Remember that your response can set the tone for the management of the issue from the complainant’s perspective.
  • Employers have a duty of care to respondents and must ensure the complaint is considered fairly

2. Confidentiality

(See section 7.3 of the Guide for Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace for detailed information)

Explanation

To the extent it is appropriate to do so, disclosures or complaints of sexual harassment must be kept in confidence in order to protect personal privacy. Employers are obliged to take appropriate action in this respect as they have a duty of care in providing a safe workplace for all employees.

Action

  • Advise the complainant that the information that they disclose regarding the incident will be kept in confidence to the extent it is appropriate to do so.
  • Also advise the complainant that there is a chance that their matter may need to be escalated or referred to other relevant persons within the organisation e.g. HR (or equivalent) who are managing the complaint, the respondent to whom the allegation relates to, or external bodies such as police or WorkSafe. Particularly, this may be the case in circumstances that constitute a criminal offence, present an occupational health and safety risk, or require disciplinary action.

Example scenario

Issue – A complainant approaches their manager to advise that a team member has been making unwelcome sexual advances and that this is causing them distress. The complainant also advises that, despite this, they do not want the matter to be taken any further as they are concerned this will negatively impact their career. The complainant expresses that they are sure the behaviour will stop.

Response – The manager should empathise with the complainant and acknowledge that:

  • sharing their experience must be difficult;
  • no-one should feel distressed at work; and
  • the matter raises serious concerns.

The manager should then advise that these concerns will be discussed with HR (or equivalent) to identify the path forward and will be kept confidential to the extent it is appropriate to do so.

3. Seek guidance

Explanation

HR practitioners (or equivalent) are experienced in managing sexual harassment.

Action

  • Seek guidance from HR practitioners (or equivalent) on next steps and how to ensure that both a complainant (and if applicable, a respondent) are provided with appropriate guidance and/or support.