Comcare releases guidance for addressing workplace sexual harassment

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday March 31, 2021

sexual harassment at parliament
The guidance comes come amid increased scrutiny of the treatment of women within parliament. (Image: Adobe/r-o-x-o-r)

The federal work health and safety regulator has published a number of resources to help employers and employees prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.

Comcare’s new publications, released on Wednesday, include practical guidance for employers, practical guidance for managers and supervisors, and practical guidance for workers, as well as regulatory guidance for employers.

It has come amid increased scrutiny of the treatment of women within parliament, following a string of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct allegations against politicians and government staffers.

Comcare notes that employers are obligated to do whatever is reasonably practicable to manage the risk of workplace sexual harassment.

“A workplace culture with a strong focus on prevention and early intervention is critical to influencing positive change,” it says in a statement.

The guidance notes that workplace sexual harassment can have physical and psychological impacts, ranging from social isolation and loss of confidence to depression, anxiety, and physical illnesses like cardiovascular disease.

For employers, sexual harassment can also lead to “significant financial impacts”, such as lost productivity, staff turnover, reputational damage, litigation, and workers’ compensation.

READ MORE: Political staffers don’t trust their bosses to investigate sexual harassment reports impartially, CPSU survey finds

Building a positive workplace culture starts “at the top” with strong leadership, according to Comcare.

“Executives, board members and senior managers should model and enforce acceptable behaviours that align with workplace policies to prevent sexual harassment and set a standard that addresses inappropriate behaviour early, and ideally before it escalates,” the guidance states.

The guidance outlines ways employers can prevent sexual harassment — such as being aware of the risks and managing them — as well as how to create policies that “set the standard” in the workplace, and how to appropriately respond to incidents of sexual harassment.

For managers and supervisors, the guidance outlines actions for supporting the prevention of sexual harassment, and how to support workers that report sexual harassment.

The resources aimed at staff, on the other hand, set out actions for individuals who have experienced, witnessed, or been accused of sexual harassment. They also cover other aspects of the issue, including who is most at risk of sexual harassment, when and where it can occur, and why workers may not want to report an incident.

The guidance has been developed in collaboration with the Australian Human Rights Commission. Comcare said it should be read in conjunction with Safe Work Australia’s national guidance on workplace sexual harassment.

The Comcare resources, as well as other guidance on workplace sexual harassment, can be found on the regulator’s website.

READ MORE: Public servants demand change amid rumours of cabinet reshuffle


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