Despite greater public awareness, sexual harassment has become rampant in the workplace. Unwelcome and unwanted behaviour have easily accessed communication channels via mobile phones, use of emails and social media sites.
Based on the statistics gathered by Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), one in five women have encountered sexual harassment in the Aussie workplace. By definition of the Sex Discrimination Act, sexual harassment is a type of discrimination that include "any unwelcome or unwanted sexual behaviour that makes an individual feel offended or humiliated."
The unwanted behaviour requires not to be experienced actually or directly. The email and social media sites allow instant communication that can become confusing and cannot draw a demarcation line between personal communication and workplace conduct. This puts the employers to potential work hazards of large claims of sexual harassment, unless the employer is prudent to take initial steps to mitigate this issue.
A survey report was released last 12 October by AHRC titled "Working without fear: Results of the Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey 2012." It discussed the survey results and thus revealed increasing incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Women below 40 years of age, especially those between 18 and 24 are subject to be sexually harassed by a male co-employee. The males that harass female employees comprised 56% of reported sexual harassment. On one hand, harassment of male employees accounted for 23%. The hierarchy of harassment was usually done by a co-worker, followed by a manager or supervisor.
Reported behaviours common in workplace sexual harassment are offensive jokes, intrusive questions that happen through various media, most frequently committed through technology devices. The grey area in the survey is whether individual to individual harassment is frequent or the incidence of electronic harassment is higher.
In the case Employment Services vs. Poniatowska, a woman alleged that she was a victim of harassment by two male co-employees via emails and text messages. They invited her to have a sexual relationship. The woman also alleged that the other male co-employee sent her a pornographic photo through his mobile phone captioned with an offensive text message.
However, the Court decided that the complaints were inappropriately dealt with. Her employment was terminated due to poor performance after receiving her complaint. The Court found out that the complainant did not fit its work environment given that she is a woman that would not entertain sexual harassment. As such, she has been treated unfairly on her gender.
Employers may be liable for their employees engaged in electronic sexual harassment while at work, unless they take reasonable pre-cautions. The AHRC suggests that employers must review and thoroughly evaluate their company's harassment policies to ensure that they prevent inappropriate use of technology or behaviour. Policies must highlight that sexual harassment is not lawful under anti-discrimination law.