In recent decades, Australian businesses have become increasingly sensitive to instances of workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying. Whereas not so long ago the bulk of workplace issues and conflicts were typically left to be ‘managed’ in-house, nowadays things are considerably different, forcing CEOs and HR departments to walk a delicate tightrope on an almost daily basis.
In part, the attitudinal changes have been driven by the digital enlightenment of employees, who are more empowered and alert to their individual rights than ever before. The media also plays a role, with coverage of workplace harassment becoming increasingly frequent – not surprising given literally thousands of cases find their way before either the courts or Fair Work Australia each year. (Just some of the higher profile workplace harassment cases include respected organisations such the Australian Federal Police, the NSW Ambulance Service, Australian Defence Force, retailer David Jones and former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, who had action taken against him earlier this year following claims of sexual harassment).
The rapidly escalating public presence and marketing campaigns of ‘no win no fee’ legal firms is further emboldening more Australian employees to stand up to errant bosses, whereas in the past they may have felt too scared to do so.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. While clearly some cases are spurious and opportunistic at best, many more are not. Employers are on notice. Do the wrong thing and be prepared to face the consequences, both legal and financial.
By far the most prudent course of action is to prevent workplace harassment long before it happens. However, this can be easier said than done. Engaging a workplace and HR specialist such as ELR Executive may be invaluable in helping you navigate – and mitigate – the many potential pitfalls and risks. Below are just some of the specific areas we can assist you with.
1) What is ‘workplace harassment’? You can’t plan for something unless you fully understand it. The modern definition of workplace harassment goes far beyond what many employers realise. Yes, it includes instances of racial or sexual discrimination and physical bullying against employees. But it also extends into more complex areas such as psychological bullying, cyber bullying, pregnancy discrimination, LGBT employees, ageism, disabilities and respecting the religious sensitivities of individual workers…