The policy should state the organisation has a legal responsibility to prevent sexual harassment, because otherwise, it could be found to be liable. It should state that managers and supervisors have a responsibility to monitor the working environment, model appropriate behavior themselves, treat all complaints seriously and that they should take immediate action to investigate and resolve the matter, and refer the case to another officer if they feel they are not the best person to deal with, either because of conflicts of interest or because the case is highly complex.
It should also make it clear that staff have a responsibility to comply with the policy and that they should offer support to anyone being harassed and let them know where they could get help and advice. Staff also have to be warned about maintaining confidentiality if they provide information during the investigation of a complaint. They need to be warned that spreading gossip or rumours may expose them to a defamation action.
The policy should tell employees where they could get help. Depending on the size of the organisation and who is doing the harassing, they can be advised to approach their manager or supervisor, sexual harassment contact officer, equal opportunity employment officer, human resources manager, industrial relations manager or their union delegate. Where possible, the company should provide different contact people of both sexes. That usually makes the employee feel more comfortable.
It is not appropriate to give only one contact such as a line manager. That manager might be the alleged harasser or they might be closely associated with the harasser and therefore would not be impartial.
The policy should also tell employees that they have different ways to possibly address the problem, either through informal action such as confronting the harasser directly or making a formal complaint. Complaints need to be formally documented.
Companies not only have an obligation to staff. Having a sexual harassment policy also reduces liability if it gets to court. The David Jones case suggests that’s more likely to happen these days.
Oracle has a job on its hands
Its predicament is a reminder of the onus on employers regarding discrimination.
Industry has been rocked by the sexual harassment case at Oracle Australia which has now gone to the Federal Court. Former Oracle Australia program manager Rebecca Richardson is suing Oracle for sexual discrimination and one of the vendor’s employees, Randol Tucker, for sexual harassment. Richardson claims she was unfairly demoted after she informed the company of Tucker’s allegedly inappropriate behaviour. She is seeking $450,000 in damages. Tucker has denied the claims.
Justice Buchanan has not set a date for hearings. Instead, he has allowed an application by Oracle’s barrister Elizabeth Raper to extend the deadline for lay evidence by a month until July 22. Justice Buchanan is imploring the parties to work towards an agreement. The matter has been re-listed for further directions on August 12.