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Are Victorian local councils taking action against workplace sexual harassment?

In 2020, the Victorian Auditor-General's Office (VAGO) surveyed Victoria’s local councils to find out whether they were providing workplaces free from sexual harassment. In short, the answer was NO.

One in four survey respondents said they had experienced workplace sexual harassment in the last 12 months.

VAGO’s conclusion was interesting:

Councils have the tools—such as policies, complaint procedures and training—to prevent and respond to these experiences, but they don’t use these tools to their full advantage. As a result, councils rarely engage staff in meaningful conversations about sexual harassment and victims lack confidence to report their experiences.

The three of the main issues were:

1. Councils weren’t regularly collecting information through surveys or complaint registers to understand the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment in their workplaces.

2. Councils were relying on online refresher courses for training, missing the opportunity to meaningfully engage with staff through face-to-face or live online training. Also, council leaders were not regularly communicating a culture of respect and zero tolerance of sexual harassment.

3. When victims spoke out, councils did not always handle their complaints fairly or effectively. Councils lacked proper complaint documentation and failed to record why they stopped investigating some complaints. VAGO also found examples of councils excusing inappropriate behaviour when staff raised concerns.

VAGO’s audit report provided eleven recommendations to Victorian local councils on identifying and acting on risk factors, regularly collecting data on the prevalence of sexual harassment and the development of regular data collection methodology. All recommendations we made were accepted.

How are local councils tracking now?

What actions are Victorian local councils taking in 2022 to implement VAGO’s recommendations and ultimately provide workplaces free from sexual harassment? While council meeting minutes are publicly accessible, it is difficult to ascertain whether the appropriate practical measures have been taken.

Local councils can self-audit their compliance with VAGO’s recommendations by downloading and completing our free self-audit checklist.

Businesses and organisations in other sectors can also benefit by using our free self-audit checklist to take action again workplace sexual harassment.

Local councils may have a lot on their plates, but they still must ensure they are taking all reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment in their workplaces. Local councils who need focused support in this area will benefit from engaging a professional HR business partner.

WorkPlacePLUS supports local councils to meet their employer obligations and provide a safe, fair and respectful workplace culture. Our HR consultants are trained workplace investigators with extensive experience mitigating sexual harassment. For example:

  • Facilitating workplace cultural reviews

  • Mediating difficult conversations

  • Conducting independent workplace investigations

  • Delivering face-to-face training on workplace bullying and sexual harassment

  • Delivering face-to-face or virtual training for current and new contact officers

For more information, please contact us today.

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