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What is Workplace Harassment and Sexual Harassment?

Workplace Harassment is when a person harasses another person at work by subjecting them to unwelcome, offensive, humiliating or intimidating behavior which makes the victim feel humiliated, embarrassed, intimidated or offended and which is likely to cause a hostile or uncomfortable workplace. Workplace Harassment is unlawful.

While this sounds pretty clear, it can be difficult to judge where the boundaries are.

Whether the inappropriate behaviour was intended or not relevant, it’s the person being subjected to the behaviour who determines whether the behaviour is welcome or unwelcome.

Sexual Harassment refers to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in circumstances which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Sexual Harassment is unlawful in the workplace, which includes any place a person goes for the purpose of carrying out any function in relation to their employment or through contact using electronic means, including email, texting, social media etc. The workplace also extends to social functions.

Sexual harassment has nothing to do with mutual attraction or private, consenting friendships whether sexual or otherwise.

Some examples of sexual harassment include:

  • persistent, unwelcome demands or even subtle pressures for sexual favours or outings;
  • leering, patting, pinching, touching or unnecessary familiarity;
  • inappropriate or offensive comments on physical appearance, dress or private life;
  • the display or distribution of pornography (especially when it is directed at particular individuals) ranging from material that might be considered mildly erotic through to material that is sexually explicit

Also, if the harassment behaviour is based on a protected attribute, such as sex, disability or race it may also be a form of unlawful discrimination.. but that is for another blog!

Harassment and Sexual Harassment claims can be both time consuming and costly to your business, as well as a potential OHS risk. To minimise the potential impact, it’s essential that you have robust policies in place, covering Harassment and Sexual Harassment and that all employees have received regular training and updates on these policies. It’s also advisable to do a quick culture check, is your workplace the type of workplace where this behavior is common place and tolerated? If so, your business may be at risk.

If you need assistance with a Workplace or Sexual Harassment case, or developing and implementing workplace policies, give HR Gurus a call on 1300 959 560 and one of our highly experienced Gurus will be able to help.

Written by resident HR Guru Louise Betts.

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