In the realm of the workplace and Human Resources, addressing sexual harassment is not just a legal imperative but a cornerstone of cultivating a healthy and productive workplace.
There is now a clear positive duty and responsibility to actively ensure that all forms of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sex-based harassment, hostile work environments, and acts of victimisation are eliminated as far as possible by taking reasonable and proportionate measures. More information on these positive duty obligations can be found in this article: Embracing the positive obligation to Tackle Sexual Harassment – 5 Control Measures for HR to Consider.
The NB Employment Law team have put together a checklist for all Employers and Human Resources teams as a pro active tool to go beyond mere compliance but actually think about and the possible areas which need movement in the workplace.
Policy Development and Communication
- Establish a Clear Sexual Harassment Policy: Define what constitutes sexual harassment, and ensure the policy is easily accessible to all employees. If you already have one, ensure the policy has been reviewed considering the new positive obligations, sex discrimination commissioner powers and psychosocial hazards. Obtain legal advice if need be.
- Communicate the Policy Regularly: Distribute the policy to new hires, and regularly remind existing staff of its contents and their responsibilities. Using an intranet or staff newsletter might come in handy for this type of communication.
- Inclusive Policy Language: Ensure the policy is inclusive, recognising that harassment can affect anyone, regardless of gender, orientation, or position.
Training and Awareness
- Regular Training Sessions: Conduct training for all employees on recognising, preventing, and responding to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment training workshops like those put on by NB Employment Law can go a long way to actively addressing any issues in the workplace or preventing issues occurring in the first place.
- Leadership Training: Provide additional training for managers and supervisors on handling harassment complaints and fostering a respectful workplace culture. Leadership and management should be given interactive style workshop training from a more practical perspective. Frameworks are helpful but also understanding the necessary steps in a policy or process is integral as well. It also helps to get a legal understanding on some of the accessorial liability risks such as General Protections and Workplace Health and Safety.
- Establish Clear Reporting Procedures: Create a straightforward process for reporting harassment, with multiple channels for employees to lodge complaints.
- Confidentiality Assurance: Ensure that the reporting process maintains confidentiality to protect the complainant and encourage reporting.
- Designate Contact Persons: Identify specific individuals or departments (such as Human Resources) who are trained to handle harassment complaints.
- Prompt and Thorough Investigations: Ensure that all complaints are investigated promptly, impartially, and thoroughly.
- Document Investigations: Keep detailed records of all reports, investigations, and outcomes.
- External Investigators: Consider the use of external investigators. Insist on an investigation plan being prepared and presented to you prior to work undertaken.
- Legal advice: ensure investigations are undertaken with legal professional privilege and advice has been sought. If you are unsure regarding engagement of an investigator, get in contact with the NB Employment Law team.
Support for Complainants
- Support Mechanisms: Provide support services, such as counselling or legal advice, to those who report harassment.
- Protection Against Retaliation: Implement measures to protect complainants and witnesses from retaliation.
Response and Enforcement
- Clear Consequences: Define and enforce appropriate disciplinary actions against perpetrators of sexual harassment. However, ensure there is procedural fairness and natural justice to minimise legal risk.
- Resolution and Follow-Up: Ensure that resolutions are communicated to the relevant parties and follow up to prevent recurrence.
Review and Improvement
- Regular Policy Review: Regularly review and update the sexual harassment policy to reflect current laws and workplace culture.
- Feedback Loop: Create a feedback mechanism for employees to suggest improvements to harassment policies and training.
This checklist serves as a guide for employers and human resources to go beyond mere compliance but think about and the possible areas which need changes or updates in the workplace.
Regular review and adaptation of these practices are crucial to maintain their effectiveness.
Give NB Employment Law a call we offer an obligation-free consultation and are happy to help.
Jonathan Mamaril leads a team of handpicked experts in the areas of employment law and commercial law who focus on educating clients to avoid headaches, provide advice on issues before they fester and when action needs to be taken and there is a problem mitigate risk and liability. With a core value of helping first and providing practical advice, Jonathan is a sought after advisor to a number of Employers and as a speaker for forums and seminars where his expertise is invaluable as a leader in this area as a lawyer for employers.