Standing up, not standing by, when harassment happens

Encouraging those who witness harassment to act could be the missing link in creating harassment free workplaces, according to a recent article. Research conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission which suggests that a high proportion of Australian employees have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment but without being able to label it as such, has led to a new campaign to tackle sexual harassment at work.


In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Human Rights Commission, Australian Council of Trade Unions and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined together to explain and promote the new “Know Where the Line Is” initiative which aims to raise awareness among workers, with an additional focus on “bystanders”; those who witness harassment behaviour. The SMH article states “As people who experience sexual harassment rarely report it, its effects remain hidden. That’s why we need to enlist the support of our colleagues, the bystanders”.

The problem of workplace sexual harassment has long presented a challenge for employers but it also provides an opportunity. Treating sexual harassment as a problem for everyone and being clear about the expectations placed on all team members to speak up about inappropriate behaviour and to behave in a respectful and supportive way, can serve as an opportunity to build engagement and morale.

Organisations often only see their sexual harassment policy invoked when a significant problem arises, a complaint is made and a workplace investigation is called for. However organisational policies on behaviour, plus codes of conduct or values statements, should be more than a stick with which to punish errant employees. These documents can help to promote the organisation internally and encourage positive attitudes towards achievement and team work.

Affecting behavioural change can be difficult, but it can be done and if handled well, can have far-reaching consequences. Boosting productivity, innovation, retention and reputation are all potential flow-on effects of creating a more positive, inclusive and fair workplace culture.


Big changes often begin small and ensuring day to day behavioural issues are properly dealt with is key. For many organisations it is beneficial to enlist the help of an HR support services provider who can give expert, on call advice to managers on the ground, ensuring relevant legislation and best practice is followed. Using iHR Australia as your organisation’s HR support services partner can free up the time of HR team members to focus on more strategic goals, such as building culture and engagement.