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Rising reports of workplace sexual harassment

Even when there is no physical contact and staff are working remotely, there has been an increase in sexual harassment complaints.

In early 2020, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins launched Respect@Work, the Australian Human Rights Commission's report of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces 2020. It found 1-in-3 Australians have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years.

Now Ms. Jenkins says sexual harassment complaints are up about 8% since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia.

"Certainly, since June, legal workplaces have reported to me that internally they're getting more reports — more people coming forward saying they've been sexually harassed," Ms Jenkins told the ABC's PM program…

Ms Jenkins told [ABC] PM a rise in complaints during the coronavirus pandemic had exposed how serious the problem had become nationwide.

"We know from our research that actually sexual harassment for many people is a daily experience at work and a very common experience," she explained.

"In recent times we have begun to understand just the true prevalence beyond just the few complaints that are usually at the most serious end of sexual harassment.

Even when there is no physical contact and staff are working remotely, there has been an increase in sexual harassment complaints.

Common complaints of workplace sexual harassment during COVID-19 pandemic include:

💬 Constantly being sent a barrage of private messages, using platforms such as Messenger,

💬 Being sent inappropriate images via private messaging,

💬 Being shamed or intimidated publicly on social media when sexual advances are rejected,

💬 Reposting private messages or images on social media, which in some cases could be classified as revenge porn, a serious criminal offence.

Inaction on stamping out workplace sexual harassment poses significant risks to everyone involved, not to mention the fall out cost to the employer through lost productivity, increased staff turnover, investigating complaints, defending possible litigation, workers’ compensation claims, reputational damage and possible personal liability of directors and executives under Work, Health and Safety legislation.

In a recent example, on the 26th August 2020, AMP was on the news for more allegations of sexual harassment. In a statement read out in Parliament, a junior female employee described consistent predatory sexual harassment by more than one male employee, including receiving explicit photos, groping and physical harassment. Read more >

Ultimately, leadership is accountable for the workplace culture. Employers also have a legal obligation to control inappropriate behaviour in the workplace under various employment legislation.

“Employers can be held legally responsible for acts of discrimination or harassment that occur in the workplace or in connection with a person’s employment. This can include posts and comments made or circulated on social media. To minimise their liability, employers need to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination or harassment from occurring in their workplaces.” - Australian Human Rights Commission

Employers can implement a range of proactive measures to prevent workplace sexual harassment. This may include executives and managers being the role model of appropriate behaviours, educating staff, and providing access to a range of support. For example:

✅ Ensure that the workplace policies and procedures are up to date, including the code of conduct & ethics, complaints handling procedure and discipline processes,

✅ Provide regular training sessions, discussions and visual reminders on workplace health and safety, and the organisational values, expectations and policies,

✅ Provide training sessions, discussions and role modelling of courageous conversations and appropriate workplace conduct, including on social media,

✅ Provide regular opportunities for 1:1 communication and feedback between managers and staff,

✅ Provide access to a contact support officer and employee assistance program,

✅ Ensure prompt and proper handling of complaints, to reinforce the message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.

How do you know whether sexual harassment has occurred?

If you receive a verbal or written complaint or allegation of sexual harassment, you are obliged to investigate the issue to find out what happened and determine whether a breach has occurred.

Whether the investigation is conducted internally or externally, it must adhere to natural justice principles, confidentiality, rules of evidence, legal and policy compliance, and health and safety regulations. These standards help to ensure a fair and equitable process for all and allow your organisation to respond with the appropriate action.

WorkPlacePLUS has a team of experienced certified private investigators who provide independent workplace investigations of the highest standard. We assist in mitigating an employer’s obligations under various legislation such as Fair Work Act and Workplace, Health & Safety, while you continue to focus on business as usual. We value continuous improvement, so we also provide follow-up support to implement recommendations and restore harmony and productivity.

For more information, please contact us today.


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