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New 'Respect@Work' government website, and managing Sexual Harassment at the Office party

With the Australian government launching its new Respect@Work website - I thought it was time to provide a much-needed primer to the FiveStar network on how to make sure you're not getting into trouble, but still having fun, this holiday season.

"The Respect@Work website will help employers meet their obligations to provide safe environments for workers, free from sexual harassment, with better access to protection and support," said sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins. The report made 55 recommendations to help manage and minimise workplace sexual harassment. The government has, in response, introduced its Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 as part of its commitment in implementing the recommendations.

The new site and its recommendations are clear that it is the workplace's responsibility to not only have adequate resources to respond to incidents, but also to pro-actively prevent issues from arising in the first place. With that in mind, I thought I'd provide my 'top tips' for ensuring you don't fall foul:

1. Get everyone home safe! If you have had to send people home because they are drunk, or the night is just winding up - make sure there are enough transport options to get everyone home.

2. You’re not the ‘Fun Police’ - but employees should be aware this is a work function. Before the Christmas party, make sure all your employees are informed of the appropriate standard of behaviour expected of them. If you don’t have Policies and Procedures in place to define those behaviours, maybe NOW is a good time to get drafting. Any such policies should cover things like the responsible intake of alcohol at work functions.

3. Managers, in particular, need to be relied-upon as ‘champions’ of your Policies. While it’s a celebration for your managers as much as it is for the rest of your team, it’s worthwhile reminding your managers to act in a professional capacity during the evening and help to supervise the event. Managers and supervisors need to be trained to understand their responsibilities and obligations and can prepare themselves to deal with any issues that may arise.

4. Understand exactly what harassment is

  • Harassment can include if someone does any of the following:

  • Subjects someone to unwanted physical contact or gestures;

  • Asks intrusive questions, or subjects someone to insinuations about their private life;

  • Makes jokes or insinuations of a sexual nature;

  • Subjects someone to sex-based insults or taunts;

  • Inappropriately or repeatedly asks someone to go out with him or her;

  • Explicitly or implicitly demands to engage in sexual activity with someone;

  • Sends offensive communication of a sexual nature by means of a note, letter, telephone, computer, or by electronic mail or any other means; and,

  • If a person feels offended, humiliated or uncomfortable as a result, sexual harassment has occurred.

Finally - remember that this is a great time to recognise the performance of both Managers and Employees. So, make sure you take the opportunity to pass on some Christmas cheer.

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