HRBC Forum Summary

March 2021: Victim Blaming, Fear and Shades of Grey – Sexual Harassment Complaints Handling in the #MeTooEra

Our March edition of HR Breakfast Club featured BAL Legal Director Gabrielle Sullivan and Law Clerk Madeleine Castles, who engaged in a wide-ranging discussion on how HR should best respond to sexual harassment complaints in a post #MeToo world.

Gabrielle began by outlining both the civil and criminal frameworks that govern sexual harassment in Australia. Gabrielle discussed the different standards of proof that apply in each context, and the process that is followed where a civil or criminal action is brought. She then spoke about the obligations of employers at law when a complaint of sexual harassment is made. 

Gabrielle and Madeleine then discussed the recent events in Parliament House, focusing first on allegations made by former Liberal Staffer Brittany Higgins and then the allegations made against former Attorney-General Christian Porter.

They explored the response to Ms Higgins’ complaint, and where the government went wrong in its subsequent handling of it. In particular, they discussed the importance of taking complaints of sexual harassment seriously, the role of fear and the shades of grey inherent in sexual harassment. Gabrielle and Madeleine stressed that it is vital that workplaces address not only the impliedly “serious” conduct – the Harvey Weinstein’s of this world – but also “ordinary” sexual harassment (think an inappropriate comment in the elevator or sexist and misogynist remarks) that is endemic in our workplaces. A workplace that tolerates the less severe forms of conduct creates a culture that perpetuates, and creates the climate that allows, the most serious conduct to take place.

Gabrielle and Madeleine then discussed the best practice for HR managers in handling complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace, strategies for encouraging better reporting mechanisms and how we can overall create a workplace culture free from sexual harassment.

Contact our Employment Law & Investigations Team for more information.

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