Time to address sexual harassment

Time to address sexual harassment

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Time to address sexual harassment

Over recent years, gender equality and sexual harassment have very much been in the news. That gave rise to our own National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Last year, they released the Respect@Work Report on the findings from that inquiry which included:. 

  • that sexual harassment is rife in Australian workplaces and
  • that fundamental systemic change is necessary to protect women’s safety at work and participation in the workforce.

On 10 September 2021, our federal parliament passed the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021 which, among other measures, provided the Fair Work Commission with new powers to receive complaints of sexual harassment and to issue orders for the sexual harassment to stop.

These powers (which are similar to those that the FWC already has for issuing orders to stop bullying) came into operation on 11 November 2021.

What is sexual harassment?

A person sexually harasses another person if they:

  • make an unwelcome sexual advance
  • make an unwelcome request for sexual favours
  • engage in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed.

The first two of those are things that any reasonable person would see as clearly falling into the category of sexual harassment. It is the third one “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” that gets a bit murkier. Some examples of such conduct might include:

  • sexually suggestive comments or jokes;
  • intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance;
  • unwanted invitations to go on dates;
  • unwanted written declarations of love;
  • sending sexually explicit or suggestive pictures or gifts to a worker, or displaying sexually explicit or suggestive pictures, posters, screensavers or objects in the work environment;
  • intimidating or threatening behaviours such as inappropriate staring or leering, sexual gestures, or following, watching or loitering;
  • inappropriate physical contact, such as deliberately brushing up against a person, or unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing;
  • sexually explicit or suggestive emails, SMS or social media (including the use of emojis with sexual connotations), indecent phone calls, circulating pornography or other sexually graphic imagery, or sharing or threatening to share intimate images or film without consent.

So it isn’t just a question of someone trying to pressure someone into having sex, it is anything of a sexual nature which would potentially make someone uncomfortable whether in the physical or virtual workplace or online and on social media.

Who is covered by the legislation?

The legislation uses the definition of a worker under the federal “Work Health and Safety Act 2011” to describe who can make an application to stop sexual harassment. This includes:

  • an employee including an outworker, apprentice or trainee
  • a contractor or subcontractor (and their employees)
  • an employee of a labour hire company working in your business
  • a student gaining work experience
  • some volunteers

Importantly, when it comes to the identity of the alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment, the same broad context applies – anyone who the applicant comes into contact with as part of their work can be the alleged instigator of sexual harassment. This includes workplace visitors, customers and suppliers and their employees or sub-contractors.

What criteria must be satisfied for the FWC to issue orders to stop sexual harassment?

For the FWC to be able to make an order to stop sexual harassment, it must be satisfied not only that a worker has been sexually harassed at work by an individual or individuals (the persons named in the application), but also that there is a risk that the worker will continue to be sexually harassed at work by that individual or those individuals. 

What can the FWC order?

There is the ability for the parties to an application to agree on consent orders to resolve the matter and they are then bound to comply with those consent orders.

For example, the parties could agree to:

  • changes in work arrangements, including in lines of reporting
  • an apology
  • a reference or statement of service (if the employment relationship has ended)
  • commitments by the employer or principal to investigate a complaint or to train staff or to review and update its policies or conduct a workplace risk assessment.

This list is not exclusive and what is agreed will depend on the specific circumstances of the case and the workplace in question.

The focus for the FWC is to try to assure the future safety of the applicant from the sexual harassment complained of.

So, in these cases, the FWC does not have powers to award compensation or, for an employee who has resigned or been terminated, to direct reinstatement.

What should employers do?

The first thing that all employers need to do is to accept the reality that sexual harassment is probably happening in your workplace in one form or another and that you have a legal responsibility to stop it.

Secondly, educate yourself and your management team about sexual harassment, your responsibilities and what you need to do to assure a workplace free of sexual harassment.

Next, review and update your policies and procedures around respectful workplace conduct (or, conversely, discrimination, harassment and bullying) ensuring that they are clear in explanation, practical in application and effective in supporting people to comply with them and to deal with non-compliances in a supportive way.

Then, ensure that all of your people understand the rules, what sexual harassment is and the processes for dealing with it and what they need to do conduct themselves respectfully.

Finally, do a sexual harassment risk assessment and create and implement a risk control plan. Starting with yourself and your management team, identify behaviours that any of your people might practise or experience at work that need to be corrected because they potentially constitute sexual harassment or bullying. Then deal with them – kindly but firmly and regardless of who is involved because that is the right thing to do.

Need help in getting the right things in place, getting your people on board or dealing with complaints?  Then contact us

CONTACT US

Ridgeline Human Resources Pty Ltd
Abn : 24 091 644 094

enquiries@ridgelinehr.com.au

6 Ellesmere Ave, Croydon Victoria 3136

Peter Maguire : 0438 533 311

PARTNER LINKS

TELL US WHAT YOU NEED HELP WITH

FWC rules that dismissal for refusing mandated vaccination is fair

FWC rules that dismissal for refusing mandated vaccination is fair

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FWC rules that dismissal for refusing mandated vaccination is fair

covid vaccine injection

At a time when businesses are grappling with what they can do with employees who refuse vaccinations that are mandated by public health orders, a majority decision of a full bench of the Fair Work Commission has provided some relief.

That decision upheld the dismissal of an employee by Sapphire Coast Community Aged Care for refusing to have a flu shot that was mandated by a public health order.

The employee claimed that she had a medical exemption but that did not stand up to scrutiny because the medical certificate was issued by a doctor who did not examine her and relied on her advice to him that she had had a previous reaction to a vaccination. On the other hand, the employer relied on the advice of the Chief Health Officer and public documents which indicated that adverse effects of flu vaccinations are rare and the fact that she might have had a reaction to a vaccine in the past did not mean that she should not have the flu vaccination.

In the original decision earlier this year, the FWC ruled that the employee could not perform the inherent requirements of her job without a flu shot.

The Full bench was considering her application to appeal which they rejected as they found that she didn’t have a valid medical exemption.

Clearly, this tells us that, subject to going through due process, if there is a public health order requiring vaccination of employees as a condition of working in the particular industry setting and an employee does not get vaccinated and does not have a valid medical exemption, the employee’s services can be terminated due to their inability to meet the inherent requirements of the job.

This obviously has ramifications for the construction industry in Victoria where workers are not permitted on construction sites without having at least the first COVID vaccination or providing a valid medical exemption.

We are hearing numerous reports from our clients about employees who are hesitant or refusing to get vaccinated and do not have any basis for a medical exemption.

Most employers we speak to tell us that they don’t want to sack anyone for not getting the jab but they might reluctantly be forced to do that with any employee who chooses not to be vaccinated. Many of these employers are small businesses often in regional communities where relationships go beyond just the workplace and so this is quite a stressful situation for employer and all of their employees.

If you need assistance in dealing with a situation such as this, give me a call on 0438 533 311 – your first consultation is free.

CONTACT US

Ridgeline Human Resources Pty Ltd
Abn : 24 091 644 094

enquiries@ridgelinehr.com.au

6 Ellesmere Ave, Croydon Victoria 3136

Peter Maguire : 0438 533 311

PARTNER LINKS

TELL US WHAT YOU NEED HELP WITH

Family Business – Developing the next generation

Family Business – Developing the next generation

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Family Business – Developing the next generation

It is not easy running a business today and neither is raising a family. So what happens when you are trying to do both in the family business?
Many Ridgeline HR clients are family businesses and many of them hope that their businesses will prosper through successive generations of the family.
But the reality is that that isn’t easy to achieve – the competing pressures of business and family responsibilities often prove too much and can be damaging not only to the business but also to family relationships.

Some of the more common scenarios that we have come across are:

  • A family member enters the business for the wrong reasons – because they think that is expected of them or because mum and dad feel that they will not be able to succeed outside the business, so they need to provide a job and a livelihood;
  • Senior family members want to retire but don’t think that their successors are ready to take the next step and manage the business in their absence;
  • Junior family members who want to take that next step are frustrated by senior managers’ reluctance to “hand over the reins”;
  • Senior family members are reluctant to scale down their active business involvement or retire because work plays such an important part in their lives;
  • A family member’s work performance or behaviour is not up to scratch but is not addressed properly creating perceptions of nepotism and resultant disengagement and performance deterioration of other staff.

While each of these situations represents a real and often painful dilemma for the family business and family members, they can be prevented or resolved with proper planning, a degree of objectivity, a strong set of values and a bit of help.

So what do you need to do?

When you have a family member entering the business:

  1. Ensure that the new entrant understands that, while they will be supported and have every chance to succeed, they are subject to the same performance and development processes and expectations as all employees;
  2. Make it clear that there is no obligation to work in the business and you are happy to support them in another career direction if that is what they want to do;
  3. Find and appoint a non-family mentor for them – someone to whom they can go to confidentially discuss and get guidance on any questions, concerns or ideas that they have;
  4. Be clear on their strengths – both technical strengths (what I can do) and character strengths (how I best operate);
  5. Develop a Personal Plan which provides the opportunity for the new entrant to explore different work opportunities in the business and, at the same time, learn how the business works;
  6. Actively support the new entrant as they learn and continuously coach them, monitor their wellbeing and provide feedback to them – in this process, you should be discussing and sorting out which areas of the business/roles, the family member is showing capability in and which might not be a fit for them.

When you have been through all of that, you and the new family entrant should have a pretty good idea on whether working in the business is right for them and for you and be able to develop a career plan accordingly – whether that is in the business or elsewhere.

It may be that the family member has shown a talent that offers great career potential in a different industry setting or that warrants investment in studies of some sort. Perhaps getting a bit of experience in another business or role before returning to the business would have benefits.

Of course, sometimes there is just not a fit and that can be a challenging conversation. If you are unable to reach agreement or there is a dispute of some sort or you need help with one of those conversations, be prepared to get some independent help – someone who can sit down with the parties and facilitate discussions to an agreed resolution.

If you need help

Go and find people who are a good cultural fit with your business and can provide services that can help you in the following areas:

  • Facilitating planning discussions and developing program plans which address, roles, relationships, values and behaviour, strengths and wellbeing.
  • Coaching for business owners in the coaching of junior family members in the business
  • Assisting with resolution of any performance issues or disagreements that might arise
  • Ensuring that the business has appropriate policies and procedures to support management of family members in the business.

We do all of that stuff so we’re happy to have the conversation about how we can help.

CONTACT US

Ridgeline Human Resources Pty Ltd
Abn : 24 091 644 094

enquiries@ridgelinehr.com.au

6 Ellesmere Ave, Croydon Victoria 3136

Peter Maguire : 0438 533 311

PARTNER LINKS

TELL US WHAT YOU NEED HELP WITH

Making policies real makes them work

Making policies real makes them work

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Making policies real makes them work

There has been a lot said in the media of late about the state of cultures in Parliament House, in the media and in the corporate world.

We know that issues of gender equality, equal opportunity and gender-based harassment and violence have been present and commonplace in society and workplaces for decades.

In organisations, we have our discrimination and harassment policies and our gender equity quotas and annual reporting requirements and our EAPs and more……..yet what has really changed?

When you look at how organisations and people talk and behave today, has much progress been made for women in real terms and in everyday behaviours that they experience?

Sadly not much…. as is evident from the wave of protests and outcries that we are seeing and hearing from women across Australia today.

Why is it so?

The answer is that all of those policies and quotas and reporting requirements have (in the main) just been dealt with as compliance requirements. That is to say that they have been seen to be about minimising risk of exposure for not having done the due diligence of getting a tick in that box because our lawyers or government or our customers said that we had to.

This is a common failing of policy settings and organisational mindset in all sorts of areas.

For example:

  • When we do SWOT analyses, what are the first things we focus on – weaknesses (where can we be hurt) and threats (how can we be hurt) ie we focus on risk not strengths.
  • In implementing quality assurance processes in business, the motivation most often is getting the tick for accreditation on your brand because you want to be able to qualify for that next tender or to satisfy a key customer requirement for certification.
  • With WHS policies and procedures, the focus first and foremost is to get documented systems in place, instruct people to use them and have evidence of that instruction so as to nominally be able to demonstrate satisfaction of the primary obligation to have safe systems of work. 

This means, in reality, they are only real to the extent that they generate a risk management strategy and process. Does that have real impact on organisational cultures and behaviours? Probably not.

Too often policies set out commitments or principles that are simply not supported by processes or leadership mindsets and actions. Or we decide that for operational reasons we will create an exception eg “we can’t afford to lose Harry even if he did that.” Or we don’t seem to be able to find the time to do what is required.

These scenarios just create contradictions with the end result being that people just don’t believe … how could they when “the rhetoric” and “the reality” are miles apart?

What should we do about it? 

The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge that the traditional risk management approach to implementing change doesn’t change behaviour all by itself.

The second is that the risk management process has to be real. That means that we need to genuinely explore and address the policies, processes and people who present risk in reality to women in our workplace ie in the policy settings, processes, attitudes and behaviours that define our culture.

When you introduce a new policy, do you do a real risk assessment on people ie do we identify who will be challenged to comply with this and what will we do about that?

It is also essential that leaders open their minds and hearts to the experiences and perspectives of women – not through a risk management lens that is about protecting management or fixing a problem but through an engagement lens which is about obtaining the best outcome by really giving women a voice, listening to it and acting positively on what they say. Ask the question: “How can I help?”

Be clear about what we are wanting to achieve (our purpose in this) eg: that might be “We want a workplace where equality and safety are real for everyone every day.”

Articulate some clear principles or strategies that underpin that purpose and provide the foundation for effective action, eg:

  1. Women genuinely have a voice that is heard and listened to and acted on.
  2. There is an organisation-wide process of risk assessment – a deep reflection on the people, the language, the policies and procedures and the behaviours within the organisation that present risks or disadvantages for women (directly or indirectly).
  3. There is an organisation-wide commitment to change and to not be bystanders who allow gender-based discrimination and harassment to happen.
  4. There is an ever evolving, effective and inclusive plan to deliver our “workplace where equality and safety are real for everyone every day”.
  5. Every person is held accountable for their language and behaviours and management of their relationships through regular conversations, education and coaching and, where they are not enough, discipline.
  6. Our leaders “walk the talk” in practise without exception and take proactive steps to support equality and safety for women throughout our organisation.

If you really want to change the dynamic of the conversation, the process and the outcomes, consider using Appreciative Inquiry as your change management framework. It uses a positive psychology approach centred on strengths that is much more engaging and positive to work through than traditional change processes.

It is a big challenge

This is a massive challenge for organisations and for society as a whole – for women and for men.

We have generations of institutionalised gender inequality that have defined people’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviours and we have to challenge them if we are to make progress towards true gender equality.

And it isn’t going to happen overnight – it requires commitment, perseverance, resilience and passion to keep the momentum.

It also requires respect, understanding and patience to generate and sustain lasting change.

How can we help? 

We have recently launched a new suite of services centred in positive psychology which are essentially about “making better workplaces” where organisations and their people flourish – see www.poswork.com.au 

Equality, diversity and psychological safety are all key components of Better Workplaces.

If you are interested in exploring this further, call Peter Maguire on 0438 533 311 to arrange a free initial consultation.

CONTACT US

Ridgeline Human Resources Pty Ltd
Abn : 24 091 644 094

enquiries@ridgelinehr.com.au

6 Ellesmere Ave, Croydon Victoria 3136

Peter Maguire : 0438 533 311

PARTNER LINKS

TELL US WHAT YOU NEED HELP WITH

Is that really what you mean?

Is that really what you mean?

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Is that really what you meant?

 Every time you do an employee survey, what is the #1 area for improvement that arises?

 Communication, of course!

 And when we are confronted with a problem relationship in a workplace, what do you think is more often than not the problem?

 You got it – communication as in the messages that people give each other and how they are interpreted or, perhaps put more accurately, how they are misinterpreted.

 In our consulting work, we use a methodology called “Respectful Relationship Agreements” to explore work relationships, what is working well and where there are opportunities for improvements.

 Where there are problems in relationships between people, we discover more often than not that the problems lie in the way that messages are given and received rather than in the messages themselves.

 By asking “what did you mean by that?”, we get understanding of what the true intention was and often that is different to what the recipient of the message thought it was or what the deliverer was really wanting to say (or would have said if they had their time again).

 We might also discover that there were other factors that arose that influenced the way the dialogue occurred and that understanding can provide context that makes a difference to perception.

 Then there might also be the reality that a person did act inappropriately and that can present a couple of scenarios:

  • If they did not realise how their behaviour impacted on the other person and they learn from that, an apology and a commitment to act differently in future might be all that is needed or
  • If they did it deliberately and are not considerate of how their behaviour impacted on the other person, they are unfortunately self selecting disciplinary action for themselves (and the process that you have worked through supports that action). 

 So next time you are confronted with a relationship issue of this sort, take the time to ask the question: “Is that really what you meant when you said that?”

 If you need a hand with the conversation, give us a call – this is just another way that we are “Helping PEOPLE in BUSINESS” with PEOPLE BUSINESS.

CONTACT US

Ridgeline Human Resources Pty Ltd
Abn : 24 091 644 094

enquiries@ridgelinehr.com.au

6 Ellesmere Ave, Croydon Victoria 3136

Peter Maguire : 0438 533 311

PARTNER LINKS

TELL US WHAT YOU NEED HELP WITH

Why was lockdown engaging?

Why was lockdown engaging?

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Why was lockdown engaging?

 As we continue the progression back to the new normal (whatever that might look like), one of the interesting things that many businesses and studies are reporting is that employee engagement levels have actually increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Why would that be the case?

Are there lessons that we can take from this?

Let’s explore why that might have happened.

 The Lucky Ones

There are people who have continued to work pretty well in line with their contracted hours of work albeit perhaps in a different setting (eg at home) or with modifications within their workplace. They would be grateful that they have had the good fortune to get through this difficult period largely unscathed especially when they look at others who have been locked down for months.

 A taste of flexible working

Of course, there are people who have enjoyed the flexibilities that go with working from home and the saving of time on the commute to work. For many, time is the most precious of commodities and they would see significant silver linings in the clouds of COVID-19.

There are lots of stories about people getting better balance in life during the last year and a balance that they want to retain.

Doing things differently

We also know that there are those who haven’t enjoyed the physical isolation but have learned new ways to be connected eg with various virtual teleconferencing platforms.

Learning and experiencing new ways of doing things have their own rewards and have opened up new possibilities with work that people value.

So all of the above are things which have contributed to employees feeling more engaged with their workplaces/employers.

We think there is another that is really important to recognise.

Loss of the physical and visual comfort zone

When people are in the office, we can see them and have intended or incidental face to face interactions which give us a sense of comfort that we are in control and things are OK with them.

For many managers, this is very much a case of all is OK in the world as long as people have their heads down and bums up and unless someone puts their hand up to say otherwise.

So what happens when that comfort zone is stripped away ie people are working from home so we can’t see them and we can’t just walk over and talk to them?

For many managers, that means that “I have to have check-ins with people to keep on top of things and ensure that the work is getting done, our customers are being satisfied and I am meeting my responsibilities as a manager.” 

If you are in that space, you have probably had more conversations/1-on-1s with each of your people during lockdown and guess what? Because of that, people can feel more connected and more valued and more engaged.

Smart businesses will explore with their people what lessons you can take from the lockdown experience that will make a positive difference to your “new normal workplace”.

We know that regular, positive and constructive conversations with people make that difference regardless of the setting in which they work. 

If you would like to learn how to do that, we would love to help you.

 Give our Practice Leader, Peter Maguire a call on 0438 533 311 to book a free consultation!

CONTACT US

Ridgeline Human Resources Pty Ltd
Abn : 24 091 644 094

enquiries@ridgelinehr.com.au

6 Ellesmere Ave, Croydon Victoria 3136

Peter Maguire : 0438 533 311

PARTNER LINKS

TELL US WHAT YOU NEED HELP WITH