It may seem improper to name sexual harassment as the “hot topic” for 2018, but I’m sure you’ve noticed the spike of sexual harassment stories in the media, and I’m not just referring to the entertainment industry.
A recent media report revealed that about one-fifth of Australia’s surgeons have failed to complete a mandatory online training course designed to combat sexual harassment and bullying within their profession. According to an independent report commissioned by the Royal Australiasian College of Surgeons, nearly half of surgeons have experienced workplace bullying or harassment, and victims have generally been afraid to speak out.
Last year, two Royal Darwin Hospital doctors were stood down over two separate allegations of sexual assault against female medical students.
Another media report late last year revealed a “toxic” and “demoralising” culture of bullying and mismanagement at a hospital in south-west Victoria.
And in recent weeks, it was reported that Melbourne City Council’s former Lord Mayor is under investigation following new allegations of sexual harassment, this time related to his former role as the chairman of Melbourne Health. Councillor Doyle has vigorously denied the allegations, which involve a complaint of serious misconduct at a Melbourne Health gala dinner.
Do your Directors and Executives understand the risks associated with any potential bullying or sexual harassment claim?
Regardless of investigative or legal outcomes, any allegation can create a negative reputational risk with all stakeholders, such as employees, regulators, government, etc.
Under Australian Workplace Health and Safety legislation, directors and executives can be held personally liable for not providing a safe workplace. This legislation covers more than the physical safety within a workplace. For example, Brodie’s Law was passed after a young female employee was continually bullied at work and subsequently suicided. The courts found that the employer contributed to the bullying and harassment resulting in the directors and manager being fined.
What can health service providers do to promote a workplace culture free from sexual harassment?
The Australian Medical Association and the WA Health Department recently launched a poster campaign aimed at stamping out widespread sexual harassment and intimidation in the workplace, particularly by senior doctors against junior female doctors, nurses or registrars.
Online trainings, campaign posters and informative websites are a start, but these tools alone are not enough to affect real cultural change in the workplace.
Does your workplace have a contact officer who is trained to deal with allegations of bullying and harassment?
Your employees need to know there is someone other than their manager or supervisor whom they can speak to if they have a complaint.
Does your workplace have clear policies and practices to mitigate the risk of sexual harassment and unwelcome conduct?
Your organisation’s Code of Conduct should define sexual harassment and clearly outline values, standards, expectations and consequences pertaining to appropriate workplace conduct.
Do your workplace policies include a process for investigating bullying and harassment allegations?
The workplace policy should set out the process that the organisation will take when an allegation of sexual harassment is made. There are advantages to engaging an Independent Workplace Investigator, for example, it reduces the risk of potential claims of cover ups, conflicts of interest or lack of transparency.
Does your workplace run regular trainings designed to implement your Code of Conduct?
Regular training programs play an important role in educating your staff on respect, responsibility and appropriate workplace conduct.
Don’t assume that your staff are aware of the most current policies, procedures and support resources in your workplace. Employees need to be able to discuss different types of behaviours in a safe, educational setting, and they also need to be clear on the right course of action if they have a concern or complaint.
WorkPlacePLUS provides specialised training programs to suit the specific needs of your organisation. Our Respect and Responsibility module goes beyond the usual bullying and harassment session to focus on promoting organisational values, positive teamwork and communication, while gaining an understanding of appropriate workplace conduct, relevant legislation and policies. We also provide conflict resolution services and independent workplace investigations, for when serious issues arise.
For more information, please contact us today.