What reasonable steps should my organisation take?
Organisations are obligated to take ‘Reasonable Steps’ to protect employees from harassment, bullying and discrimination. ‘Reasonable steps’, is not defined in the Australian Legislation as what is ‘reasonable’ for large organisation may not be ‘reasonable’ for a smaller organisation. In the event of an issue the court or commission will determine if reasonable steps have been taken based on a number of considerations.
The Human Rights Commission has published the following list of considerations to inform what ‘Reasonable Steps’ might look like in your organisation.
- The size and structure of the organisation
- Available resources
- The nature of the work undertaken
- Gender imbalances in the workplace
- The employment of women in non-traditional areas
- The number of junior staff
- The workplace culture
- Cultural diversity in the workplace
- Any history of harassment
- Any relevant provisions in industrial awards or agreements
- Working hours
- Level of supervision
- Any other relevant factor, such as geographic isolation of the work location, duties which require working in close physical proximity, live-in arrangements, etc.
- Obtain high level support from the chief executive officer and senior management for the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to address discrimination and harassment
The Human Rights Commission recommends that employers take the following ‘Reasonable Steps’ to prevent harassment and their subsequent liability:
- Develop in consultation with staff or their union a written policy which prohibits discrimination and harassment
- Consult relevant parties including staff, employer organisations, unions, industry and professional associations, the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) and/or state and territory anti-discrimination agencies, when developing anti-discrimination or anti-harassment policies
- Regularly distribute and promote the policy at all levels of the organisation
- Translate the policy into relevant community languages where required so it is accessible to employees from culturally and linguistically diverse communities
- Ensure that managers and supervisors discuss and reinforce the policy at staff meetings (verbal communication of the policy is particularly important in workplaces where the English language ability of staff is an issue)
- Provide the policy and other relevant information on discrimination and harassment to new staff as a standard part of induction
- Periodically review the policy to ensure it is operating effectively and contains up to date information
- Display posters on notice boards in common work areas and distribute relevant brochures (these may be obtained from the Commission, state and territory antidiscrimination agencies and/or relevant unions)
- Train all line managers on their role in ensuring that the workplace is free from discrimination and harassment
- Ensure that line managers model appropriate standards of professional conduct at all times
- Include accountability mechanisms in position descriptions for managers
- Ensure that selection criteria for management positions include the requirement that managers have a demonstrated understanding of and ability to deal with discrimination and harassment issues as part of their overall responsibility for human resources (competence in this area can be tested at selection interviews)
- Check that managers are fulfilling their responsibilities through performance appraisal schemes
- Conduct awareness raising sessions for all staff on discrimination and harassment issues
- Remove offensive, explicit or pornographic calendars, literature, posters and other materials from the workplace
- Develop a policy prohibiting inappropriate use of computer technology, such as email, screen savers and the Internet.
iHR Australia recommends face to face training every two years and online training every other year. Training should be tailored to meet the needs of employees and managers.