Responsible Workplace Relationships

Sophia Divirgilio Category 01, Small Business HR


Currently the media is swarming with different issues involving many large-scale organisations, political parties and small businesses being hit with allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

Canberra has been shocked by a series of revelations from sexual harassment to rape. These allegations publicly unfolding along with the #metoo movement have created conversation about what some women have had to horribly endure whilst at work.

The clearly very toxic and problematic workplace culture that is present among parliamentarians is paramount when watching this case unfold. Since Britany Higgins has come forward with sexual harassment allegations it has been a great encouragement for other women to gain the confidence to also come forward with their similar experiences whilst working in political parties.  

According to the Human Rights Organisation ‘1 in 4 women have reported to have been sexually harassed in the workplace’. This statistic shows a seriously grave issue among Australian workplaces.

Parliament allegations have given us many examples of the of sexual harassment that can occur within the workplace. Below are some of the sexual harassment behaviours that have been listed by the victims:

  • Unwanted touches e.g. inappropriately touched whilst walking, hugging, massages.
  • Lewd phone calls.
  • Comments on appearance.
  • Unwanted invitations to go on dates or sexual activity.
  • Suggestive comments.
  • Indecent exposure.
  • Explicit inappropriate images.

These are just some examples. Always be alert and keep an eye out for the signs of harassment in the workplace!

Below we have come up with some important measures to implement in your workplace. These will assist in preventing and represent the correct actions taken in order to reduce your liability as an employer.

Put Preventative Measures in Place

Every employer no matter how big or small the business should put in all measures in order to keep their staff safe and prevent liability.

Begin by educating your staff on the topic of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Teach your team the warning signs harassment. During onboarding ensure all staff have read and understood the sexual harassment policy, and thoroughly train them on what behaviours will not be tolerated.

Make it clear the disciplinary action that will be taken if any employee behaves inappropriately and harassment will not be tolerated.

Define Unacceptable Workplace Conduct Before Anything Else

Continuing on with our point on briefing, It is vital you identify to every employee what does and does not constitute as sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace conduct. This can be difficult to do as behaviours that someone may see as harmless flirting could make another employee extremely uncomfortable but remember it is the subjective not the objective.

Be very specific in order to prevent any kind of middle ground and confusion.

Create Policies and Procedures

It is important that all businesses have the correct policies and procedures in place in order to properly deal with this kind of behaviour. Again, make sure each employee reads the policies and procedures around sexual harassment.

Be Aware of all Consensual Workplace Relationships

Workplace romantic relationships commonly arise in businesses. The key to these relationships is to make sure you as a manager know what is going on at all times. It is important specifically if the relationships involve an executive or a manager it is not a conflict of interest.

An open conversation with the staff members involved is advised. Ensure they declare the relationship to you as a manager, so you are aware of the current situation.  Be happy for them BUT remember the associated risks that can come from workplace relationships eg awkward post breakup tension or disputes between the employees.  

Create a Safe Space for Complaints and Reporting

No employee should ever feel like they need to choose between making a formal complaint and keeping their job. Create a space that all employees can come forward. Be understanding and where possible  keep it confidential!

Remember just because you may not have any complaints it does not mean it doesn’t happen! Be alert and educate your staff members on the signs.