How to handle sexual harassment in the workplace
This past week we have seen in the media, reports of a Qantas flight attendant making shocking allegations of sexual harassment against the airline. She has alleged that she was harassed by her on-board manager and that the way Qantas handled the situation left her no option but to quit.
So what is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual attention that a reasonable person would expect to offend, humiliate or intimidate. It doesn’t have to be repeated or ongoing to be against the law. In the allegations against Qantas, the sexual harassment has been said to have been the manager blowing on her neck and slapping her on the backside whilst making comments. Some other examples of sexual harassment are:-
- unwelcome physical touching
- sexual or suggestive comments, jokes or taunts
- unwelcome requests for sex
- the display of sexual material (e.g. photos or pictures)
- sexual reading matter (e.g. emails, faxes or letters).
Sexual harassment is not restricted to the workplace and applies in all situations.
What can you do if you experience sexual harassment?
There are a number of options available to you including:-
- Tell them to stop: if it is possible and you feel comfortable, tell the offender verbally or in writing that their behaviour is offensive and unacceptable and that you want it to stop immediately.
- Keep a written record: you should keep a written record of everything that has happened, when it happened and the names of any people who saw what happened.
- Make a complaint: depending on where the harassment occurs there may be guidelines or a policy which you need to follow to report what has happened and make a complaint. Many workplaces will have a sexual harassment policy which will outline the complaint procedure.
- Make a complaint to a tribunal: you have the right to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission, which is a statutory tribunal set up by the Commonwealth Government, or to the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland which is set up by the Queensland State Government. There are time limits for making a complaint through a tribunal so we recommend that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.
If you have been sexually assaulted you should contact the Police or contact a support provider such as the Sexual Assault Helpline on 1800 010 120.
What does sexual harassment mean for an employer like Qantas?
The media have brought Qantas under fire for their handling of the sexual harassment complaints which highlights the risks for employers.
Employers must be aware that they may be held liable for sexual harassment by their employees.
Employers must ensure that proper processes and procedures are in place for the training of employees with respect to their rights and that a complaints process is implemented that can handle complaints quickly and fairly.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment and would like to discuss making a complaint please contact your preferred solicitor at our firm.
Likewise, if you are an employer and are not sure if you have adequate systems in place to deal with sexual harassment complaints, please contact us and we will be able to review your practices and help implement new procedures, if necessary. We can also assist you to deal with any complaints that are made.