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Third Party Sexual Harassment

Catching up with a friend the other day, we were having a conversation about recent events in the film industry and beyond which is being referred to in some media as the “Weinstein effect”.

During our conversation we found ourselves discussing a scenario of what would happen in the event that an employee was sexually harassed by an outsider or third party or vice versa?

Yes it’s still a complaint of alleged sexual harassment, and even if it involved someone external to the company, is it really a matter for that Company’s managers to handle?

The Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (VHREOC), identifies under Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (the Act), sexual harassment is against law when it occurs in an area of public life for example:

  • accommodation
  • clubs
  • education
  • employment, which covers a range of situations including where people are working in a partnership, or anywhere people share a common workplace.
  • goods and services
  • an industrial organisation, such as a union
  • local government
  • a qualifying body, such as a professional association

Volunteers and unpaid workers also have the same rights and responsibilities as employees when it comes to sexual harassment too.

Furthermore, the VHREOC defines for us, the workplace as being any place that a person attends for the purpose of carrying out their work or trade. The person does not need to be an employer or an employee of the workplace.

Where there has been an incident (or possibly a series of incidents) involving an employee and a third party, it is important the matter is taken seriously and dealt with by the employer swiftly and appropriately to ensure they are carrying out their responsibilities contained within the Act.

This is important because, aside from the legal responsibilities of the individuals involved, employers can also be held legally responsible for acts of sexual harassment by their employees or agents if they occur in the workplace, or in connection with a person’s employment. This is known as vicarious liability.

Having robust policies and procedures in place around this potential workplace issue will assist employers in strengthening their positive duty under the Act and help them to appropriately manage incidents of third party sexual harassment.

We are at the ready to help employers in this area with policies, procedures, training, education, employee awareness campaigns, advice and assistance on these matters, we are here for you. Get in touch with us for chat!

Written by Senior HR Guru Angela Olanda.

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