Employer’s legal responsibilities regarding sexual harassment

An employer can be held vicariously liable if they fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent workplace sexual harassment. Implement a sexual harassment policy consistent with discrimination legislation to avoid legal ramifications.

Discrimination legislation
The Sex Discrimination Act is a Commonwealth statute that applies to all of Australia. The Act defines sexual harassment as unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. Sexual harassment is not interaction, flirtation or friendship which is mutual or consensual.

Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Staring or leering
  • Unwelcome touching
  • Intrusive questions or statements about one’s personal life
  • Requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates
  • Inappropriate advances on social networking sites

What you can do
Employers should take reasonable steps by drafting a sexual harassment policy. The courts will judge the policy’s efficacy should an employee bring a claim against you.

The policy should contain:

  • Adequate details defining sexual harassment
  • Be endorsed by the employer through workplace education and training on procedures
  • Outline the disciplinary courses of action should a breach occur

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