Date posted: 27/03/2023 5 min read

5 steps to creating a safe workspace

New legislation means the consequences for companies failing to protect employees from sexual harassment or discrimination will be severe. Brought to you by Ombpoint.

The importance of creating a supportive work culture has been recognised for many years, but companies are now facing additional obligations to implement robust measures to prevent and respond to worker safety.

Last year, the government committed to implementing all 55 recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work Report. It means business would face steep penalties if employees weren’t properly protected against sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation.

“Companies have a duty of care to foster a respectful workplace, so it’s essential they take proactive steps to mitigate the risk of an incident occurring,” says Lindall West, managing director of leading conflict resolution specialists Ombpoint. “Cases of sexual harassment or bullying can be devastating for the individual involved and very expensive for small and medium sized companies.”

Lindall WestPictured: Lindall West

“Sexual harassment can be devastating for the individual involved and very expensive for small and medium sized companies.”
Lindall West

She has outlined five steps that businesses must take to ensure their workplaces protect staff and comply with the recent legislation

1. Review your policies

The new laws mean existing internal guidelines may be inadequate. “Make sure your policies and documents about your code of conduct explicitly outline what’s considered acceptable in the workplace,” West says. “Without it, employees can’t be expected to understand what will be tolerated.”

2. Formulate a grievance process

One aspect of Respect@Work is that alleged victims of sexual harassment should have more say in the way their situation is handled. “It’s a victim-centred approach, which needs to be accommodated in company procedures on how complaints are made and investigated,” West reveals. “All guidelines need to take account of both the alleged victim but also the other stakeholders involved in the situation.”

3. Examine reporting mechanisms

In most organisations, incidents of harassment are escalated to the senior leadership, but this approach has drawbacks. “There are often low levels of reporting as staff either feel too intimidated or embarrassed to raise it. A better option is often an external resource such as an ombuds where the employee feels more comfortable, and the third party has experience in handling such matters professionally.”

4. Look at the big picture

“The new legislation along with the emergence of psychosocial risks in workplaces mean the people and culture function needs to take a holistic review of the employee life cycle.” For example, during the recruitment process, the manager must ensure that, in the interview, they don’t ask any discriminatory questions. For inexperienced recruiters, it can be a minefield, so many engage external expertise to make the process run more smoothly.

5. Consider your unique culture

“Part of the risk assessment should be thinking about the factors that exist in your workplace that may exacerbate the chances of sexual harassment occurring. Is it dominated by a particular gender? Do employees attend events where alcohol and travel are prevalent? “They may indicate cultural factors that allow perpetrators to exert control or influence over the other person in an environment that isolates the victim and intimidates them so they don’t speak up.” 

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Ombpoint is Australia’s first workplace ombuds service. For information on how it helps businesses navigate and resolve conflict, visit