No employer, whether you employ many people or only a few, can afford to ignore the legal requirements and responsibilities which the law now imposes on all employers in respect to workplace bullying, discrimination and harassment.
Concerns over sexual harassment in the workplace have soared after the intense publicity of the David Jones sexual harassment case late last year.
Kristy Fraser-Kirk, a former David Jones publicist, sued DJ’s and its former chief executive (Mark McInnes) for sexual harassment and breach of contract, in an unprecedented claim for $37 million in punitive damages. The case was settled before trial for a figure reported to be around $850,000.
There is no doubt that Ms. Fraser-Kirk’s action brought against David Jones has heightened sexual harassment concerns within organisations generally and encouraged scores of other victims to take on their harassers.
The Human Rights Commission has reported in February 2011 that such cases now constitute 1/3 of all complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act – up 50 per cent since 2009.
The Commission has revealed that from July to December last year sexual harassment accounted for more than 30% of all complaints. During the 2009 financial year such cases made up only 20%. If complaints continue at the current level, the Commission will receive more than 300 for the financial year – 100 more than last year
It has made women more aware of sexual harassment laws and their rights.
The case had also put pressure on companies to increase the amount they were willing to pay to settle sexual harassment cases out of court.
What should you do?
The need for an effective harassment policy is now even greater than it was before. The risks are greater too, and it’s critical that your staff acknowledge they know your policy on bullying, discrimination and harassment, and are following it.