Employer Liability: Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace

Employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment for their employees. Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (ACT) (the Act) employers have a duty of care to take all reasonably practicable steps to manage and prevent health and safety risks in their workplace. Workplace bullying and harassment is one such risk. An employer’s failure to manage and prevent risks to their employee’s health and safety may constitute a breach of the Act and lead to serious repercussions.

Harassment

Workplace harassment is often a sensitive issue and must be treated as such by employers. Unlawful harassment today is interpreted broadly, occurring when someone is made to feel intimated, insulted or humiliated because of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, sexual preference, or some other characteristic. For example, unlawful harassment includes:

  • telling offensive jokes about racial groups;
  • sending sexually explicit or implicit emails;
  •  displaying offensive posters;
  • making derogatory comments about someone’s race or religion; and
  • asking someone intrusive personal questions – for example, about their sex life.

Actions for Employers

As an employer, there are several steps you can take to prevent harassment in your workplace. For example, you may consider:

  • educating employees about what harassment and bullying is;
  • implementing and enforcing an effective anti-harassment policy;
  • informing employees of the consequences of engaging in harassment;
  • fostering a workplace culture that does not tolerate workplace harassment;
  • being alert for early indicators of workplace harassment; and
  • treating any allegations of workplace harassment seriously.

For further advice on what actions you should take to ensure your workplace is safe and that you are complying with any legal obligations you may have, please contact our office.

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