Sexual harassment in the workplace is not a new problem and is on the rise in Australia, according to alarming new research that finds one in three people have been targeted in the past five years.
Figures released in September 2018 by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also show only a fraction of victims report it, for fear they won’t be believed or that it’s easier to stay quiet.
The workplace environment often reinforces that staying quiet is the right thing to do, despite the fact the law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace.
The AHRC has identified the following behaviours as examples of sexual harassment: sexually explicit physical contact, emails or SMS text messages, requests for sex, unwelcome touching, unnecessary familiarity (such as deliberately brushing up against a person), insults or taunts based on sex, sexually explicit pictures or posters, intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body, staring or leering, suggestive comments or jokes, or unwanted invitations to go out on dates.
According to Denise Chesworth, Director and Principal Solicitor at Perth City Legal, the #MeToo social media campaign has helped to highlight the prevalence of sexual harassment, particularly within the workplace, and is encouraging more victims to come forward.
“You do not have to endure sexual harassment in the workplace,” says Chesworth.
“It is never acceptable, and employees throughout Western Australia should be aware that they have the right to be protected from sexual harassment.
“Employers should be aware that they are liable for acts of sexual harassment by one employee towards another. The incentives for employers to take sexual harassment seriously are not strong enough and, as a result, many employers are failing their employees.”
Among the health consequences of sexual harassment are noted to be loss of self-esteem, depression, stress and post-traumatic stress (PTSD), and physical symptoms including headaches and elevated blood pressure.
Chesworth says if you are being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, you should:
- Document any offers or threats that are being made for sexual favours.
- If there are any witnesses present during the harassment, record their details.
- Document any sexual advances or comments.
- Keep any emails or text messages.
- Report any sexual harassment in the workplace to your employer in writing and ask the employer to investigate.
- Speak to your doctor as soon as you are aware that your health is being affected and have him/her keep records of initial and subsequent consultations, as these may be called upon in the event of legal action.
Chesworth has extensive legal experience and knowledge in the specialised area of workers compensation law and has been assisting injured workers for 18 years, representing her clients in all
WorkCover and District Court proceedings in relation to their workers compensation claims.
“I’m committed and passionate about ensuring my clients achieve the maximum compensation entitlements and that their rights and interests are protected during the claim process,” she says.
“I’m always accessible to my clients and ensure they are kept informed about the process of their claims from the beginning to the end.”
Are you a victim of sexual harassment or workplace bullying? Perth City Legal provides accurate, practical legal advice in Western Australia, with free confidential initial consultations.
Originally published in The West Australian here.