A Bad Business
(Review of sexual harassment in employment complaints 2002)
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Definition of Sexual Harassment | Cost
Launch Speech - Sexual Harassment - A Bad Business:
Review of sexual harassment in employment
Delivered by Pru Goward, Federal Sex
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for
attending the launch of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s
publication “A Bad Business: Review of Sexual Harassment
in Employment Complaints 2002”.
This publication presents the findings
of a review of 152 complaints of sexual harassment in employment finalised
by the Commission in 2002.
We decided to undertake this review
in response to the persistently high number of complaints of sexual
harassment the Commission continues to receive.
This disturbing trend continues despite
20 years of federal legislation outlawing sexual harassment.
We continue to receive complaints of
sexual harassment despite many organisations, workplaces and industries
having in place well developed policies for dealing with sexual harassment.
Our review was intended to gain a greater
understanding of the problem - how does sexual harassment manifest
in the workforce? Who is affected? How is it being dealt with and
what are its implications?
That sexual harassment is a ‘bad
business’, that it is intolerable behaviour with potentially
both mental and physical ramifications for its victims and sanctions
for its perpetrators are widely accepted facts, known prior to our
What our review has highlighted is
that sexual harassment is also bad for business.
Employers certainly can be held legally
responsible for acts of sexual harassment done by their employees
or agents, which potentially exposes them to legal proceedings and
compensation payments. However our review also found that sexual harassment
has other significant costs for employers.
It causes disruption to the workplace,
has negative impacts on productivity and workplace culture and often
results in employees being unable to work or leaving their positions.
This was reflected in the review findings
which revealed that at least three out of four complainants of sexual
harassment were no longer actively working for the organisation where
the alleged harassment occurred by the time they reported the harassment
to the Commission – 67 per cent of complainants had left the
organisation, either through dismissal, redundancy or by resigning.
A further 10 per cent were off work
on leave – unpaid leave, sick leave, or workers’ compensation.
Only seven per cent of complainants
were known to be still actively working for the organisation where
the alleged harassment occurred.
This obviously has considerable costs
for employers in terms of recruitment, training and development, in
addition to the indirect costs associated with loss of staff morale
which is an inevitable flow on effect of unresolved disputes within
Other key findings of the review that
are worth drawing to your attention today are:
Sexual harassment continues to
be a significant issue for women in the
workforce - 95 per cent of the complaints of sexual harassment in
employment finalised by the Commission were made by women.
Men continue to be the main perpetrators
of sexual harassment in employment – 88 per cent of the complaints
received involved a male respondent, (seven per cent involved both
male and female respondents and 5 per cent involved female respondents).
Sexual harassment is an issue of
concern for all business sizes – small, medium and large,
(44 per cent of complainants were employed in small businesses,
19 per cent in medium sized businesses and 36 per cent in large
These figures are roughly comparable
to the overall proportion of employees in the Australian labour
It takes place in businesses everywhere
- while 67 per cent of reported harassment occurred in workplaces
located in capital and regional cities, 31 per cent took place in
rural areas and 3 per cent in remote areas.
Most sexual harassment occurs in
the first 12 months of the complainant’s employment (72 per
cent) and is ongoing – only 18 per cent of cases involved
an isolated incident of sexual harassment and in 22 per cent of
cases the harassment continued for more than 12 months.
Unequal positions of power usually
underlay the relationship between the complainant and respondent,
with the majority of alleged harassment (60 per cent) being committed
by an individual in a more senior position than the complainant.
Most complaints involved multiple
forms of harassment – verbal, intimate and sexual physical
No doubt Nareen Young from the NSW
Working Women’s Centre will provide you with insight into the
depressing and sometimes devastating experiences of the many women
who are sexually harassed in the workforce each year.
Perhaps one of the more worrying findings
of the review relate to the way in which complaints of sexual harassment
are dealt with in workplaces.
It is simply not good enough that almost
20 years after Australian legislation outlawing sexual harassment
has been in place, only one in three employers has a fully implemented
sexual harassment policy.
The expectation is otherwise –
employees themselves believe that workplaces will adequately deal
with complaints as they arise - 77 per cent of complainants who reported
harassment in their workplace did so to people in a management or
That in all of these situations these
complaints were subsequently taken to the Commission indicates that
these managers and supervisors were unable to meet these expectations.
It suggests a need for managers and supervisors to do better.
The review and its findings do not
intend to be an authoritative or all encompassing presentation of
sexual harassment in the Australian workforce. Rather the review is
based solely on complaints of sexual harassment finalised by the Commission.
In general it is acknowledged that reported sexual harassment will
only ever represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in relation
to the incidence of sexual harassment in the community. The majority
of sexual harassment remains unreported and unchecked, or perhaps
While the challenge now lies in tapping
into the unreported incidence of sexual harassment so that a more
complete picture can be presented, this review is useful in highlighting
key issues and trends in relation to sexual harassment in the workforce.
It is the first stage of a broader
package of work on sexual harassment being undertaken by the Commission,
The commissioning of a telephone
survey to measure the general incidence of sexual harassment in
Australia, the results of which will be released next year. The
survey will be groundbreaking and the first of its kind in Australia.
We are also currently preparing
public education material on sexual harassment and updating our
code of practice on sexual harassment, so that this Commission publication
may continue to be a useful resource for employers in eliminating
sexual harassment within their workplaces. All of these materials
will be released next year. I suggest you watch this space.
That in 2003 sexual harassment is still
rife in our workforce is a disturbingly sad reality, particularly
as next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination
Act 1984 (Cth). For 20 years Australia has had federal legislation
which specifically prohibits sexual harassment in employment.
It is amazing that in this context
we are still seeing this behaviour, that is in effect an attempt to
exclude women from the workforce, as though they are still not legitimate
It is outrageous that in the 21st Century, at a time when Australia
relies so heavily on women’s labour force participation, we
can see such behaviour continuing across all sectors of the workforce.
It is unacceptable that this consistent
pattern of behaviour continues to interfere with women’s right
to work and abilities to support themselves and reach their potential
in Australia, a country which has for so long prided itself as an
egalitarian nation that provides everyone with a fair go.
It’s not nearly good enough that
at this time in our history I am having to release statistics and
stories such as this. It is time this behaviour stopped.
However it is not all despair - if
we are to follow other current workforce trends, next year will also
see the greatest number of women in the Australian paid workforce,
as every year this figure increases.
In this environment losing female employees
through incidences of sexual harassment and poorly managed sexual
harassment complaints presents a threat to employers that at least
the better of them, are in fact increasingly recognising and addressing.
In today’s competitive marketplaces,
no one can afford to lose valued and necessary employees - this would
simply be a bad business for all involved.
This is a hard nosed business response
that we are willing to work with.
Whatever succeeds in eliminating sexual
harassment is acceptable.
However it is also heartening to recognise
those many employers who are offended by the behaviour and who recognises
it as an affront to human dignity and a serious breach of human rights.
We cannot leave responsibility for
this issue solely with employers. Unions and employer groups have
a role in supporting employers.
The Commission has a responsibility
to raise the profile of this issue and to efficiently and effectively
deal with complaints that we receive.
Co-workers also need to believe they
can speak when they witness sexual harassment occurring.
It is a responsibility and a challenge
for each one of us.
updated: 12 November 2003