Employers warned to take complaints of sexual misconduct in the workplace seriously
In our recent article, we warned employers of the circumstances in which you could take the rap for the sexual misconduct of employees.
Another recent case highlights the need for employers to tread very carefully when dealing with allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The courts are treating claims of sexual harrassment very seriously - employers need to ensure that they have systems in place to deal with harrassment issues.
In this case, Employment Services Australia Pty Ltd (ESA), the employer, was found to have discriminated against an employee, Ms. Poniatowska. Ms. Poniatowska was being sexually harassed at work. After complaining to her employer, ESA, of the sexual harassment that was taking place, her employment was terminated.
ESA was found to have unlawfully discriminated against Ms. Poniatowska in terminating her employment. Ms. Poniatowska was awarded a total of $466,000 in compensation and damages, showing just how seriously the Courts treat allegations of this type.
What can you do to ensure you don’t breach the law?
The Courts are awarding hefty penalties to employers who discriminate against employees or, who don’t take fast action to adequately deal with allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
If you are a business that employees staff, you should:-
- have sexual harassment and discrimination policies in place. The policies should set out disciplinary actions for breaches;
- promptly investigate any allegations of sexual harassment in your workplace and take necessary steps to stop all such conduct immediately you are aware that it is occurring. If not, you will run the risk of being held vicariously liable for the sexual misconduct committed by your employees: See recent article
- offer ongoing training and support for managers on how to deal with complaints;
- provide ongoing training and awareness to staff members about what is acceptable behaviour and what behaviour is not tolerated.
By Ian MacLeod