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Steps for employers to address sexual harassment

Guidance for employers in addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.

As an employer, it’s important that you have policies and procedures in place to prevent and deal with cases of sexual harassment, whether these come to your attention as a result of a complaint or otherwise. Along with your own behaviour, you are also responsible for addressing the behaviour of all workers, customers and clients.

A sexual harassment complaint can be made if a particular worker finds someone‘s behaviour unwelcome or offensive and that behaviour is repeated or serious, and has a harmful impact on their job.

Your business must manage the harm that arises from sexual harassment. As with all workplace risks, addressing sexual harassment is the employers’ responsibility under the:

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
  • Employment Relations Act 2000, and
  • Human Rights Act 1993. 

If the sexual harassment involves assault or violence, this should be reported to the Police.

Reporting sexual assault – Police (external link)

Written policy

You should have a written policy statement advising workers that sexual harassment is unlawful and will not be tolerated. The policy should give examples of what is considered sexual harassment and should specify the action that will be taken against anyone whose behaviour is inappropriate.

Policy statements should set out a worker’s rights under both the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Employment Relations Act 2000 to complain about sexual harassment, along with procedures to follow if a complaint is made.

Example policy: Sexual harassment WorkSafe (external link)

Complaint procedure

The employer should follow a fair and proper process when looking into any misconduct.

Misconduct and serious misconduct

Having a proper process for investigating a complaint of sexual harassment is very important. How you deal with, or fail to handle, an investigation may be critical to resolving a sexual harassment complaint.

You can seek help from an outside organisation or independent workplace investigator if the matter is serious.

Independent workplace investigators

If you receive a complaint of sexual harassment, you must act by:

  • setting timelines and dealing with the issue as soon as you can
  • carefully and clearly considering response options for the specific circumstance
  • treating the complaint confidentially
  • clearly communicating the process:
    • tell both parties involved what the process is
    • let the people involved know if there are any delays in the process
    • protect the people involved, including both sides of the complaint, support people and witnesses, from victimisation such as being punished, bullied, or intimidated.
    • ensure that both parties get the information from each other. 

You must tell everyone involved about what support and representation are available to them. You must maintain confidentiality and make sure details of the matter are only known to those directly concerned, including their representative or support person, and those involved in investigating and considering the reported behaviour.

You can send them the guidance for workers who are involved in a sexual harassment complaint:

Steps for workers to deal with sexual harassment

Steps for workers who have been accused of sexual harassment

Complaints can be resolved within your organisation. For example, if the behaviour was unintentional, this could be resolved by both parties having a meeting to clear up any miscommunications and the person complained about agreeing not to behave in the same manner again. If the person is making a complaint about their own manager, you can get them to temporarily report to another manager while you carry out the investigation. You can also let the employee know they can take paid leave such as ‘stress leave’, if necessary or you could consider offering them paid special leave.

Stress leave

Mediation

At any stage, you can use our free mediations services to help address the complaint.  The mediation services provide a complaint process that is private and confidential for everyone involved. You will be contacted by their teams to guide you through the process. This may include mediation sessions where, through the help of a mediator, those involved talk about the issues in an open and constructive way to reach a fair and mutually agreed resolution.

Mediation

If a resolution is not reached during mediation, you can let the complainant know that they can go to:

  • Employment Relations Authority, if they are raising a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000
  • the Human Rights Review Tribunal, if they are making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

Reviewing policy and procedure

You should check how well your sexual harassment policies and procedures work in your workplace. Every year the Human Resources team could carry out an anonymous survey asking workers about sexual harassment. When workers leave, the team can carry out ‘exit interviews’, and ask specific questions about sexual harassment. The results should then be used to review and improve the policies and procedures in your workplace.

Sexual harassment advice for businesses WorkSafe (external link)  

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Page last revised: 20 July 2021

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