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Sexual harassment affects all workplaces

Australian workplaces are only now appreciating that sexual harassment is occurring regularly. Recent media articles have reported on allegations in Parliament House and private firms, while the Australian Human Rights Commission Respect@work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (2020) reports that most people who experience sexual harassment never report it.

Factors that have led to under-reporting include that victims believe they will not be taken seriously, a lack of faith in complaints processes and the victim’s believing they will be labelled as ‘difficult’ for reporting.  Often allegations are difficult to investigate because of delayed reports.

There are numerous challenges presented in an investigation where there is a significant time lapse between the alleged conduct and the report. Physical and witness evidence may no longer be available or has been contaminated, diminishing it’s probative value.

The fact that the report of the incident/s are delayed is never an impediment or a reason not to formally investigate a complaint, particularly where relevant grievance handling or alternative resolution process had failed to ensure an effective early intervention.

Policies and procedures to support timely reporting should never be a substitute for an organisational culture that promotes a positive workplace environment through effective early intervention and eliminates the need for formal investigation.

It is important that all organisations create a safe reporting culture and thoroughly investigate complaints. This shows your employees that sexual harassment is not acceptable and reports will be taken seriously.

Safety grievance handling processes must be established with trained staff responding to sensitive allegations of sexual harassment. Often reporters do not feel comfortable simply speaking to their manager.

Investigations should be undertaken by trained professionals.   Investigators will objectively assess the information provided, look for a pattern of behaviour and apply relevant organisational policies and legislative obligations under the Model WHS Code and corresponding State Legislation.

A thorough investigation into workplace misconduct should be viewed as an opportunity for an organisation to identify and address gaps or areas of improvement in their processes to ensure timely reporting.

If you would like to more information, please contact Nick Iorfino on