Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, and Cara Delevingne are just a few of the women who have come forward to accuse film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault. The resulting publicity led to the #MeToo movement entering the public consciousness, and the subsequent wave of accusations against other powerful men has been dubbed the Weinstein effect. It's not only men being accused of sexual misconduct against women, with both the actor Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer, the director of X-Men and Bohemian Rhapsody being accused of sexual misconduct by men, some of whom were below the age of consent at the time of the alleged incidents. The scope of the accusations is shocking, but of course, such behaviour is not limited to the entertainment industry. Any business with employees needs to have a policy that dictates just what is and isn't acceptable conduct in the workplace, as sexual harassment can take on many different forms. Does your small business have such a policy?
You don't need to draft such a policy from scratch, and the Australian Human Rights Commission has a template that can be customised to suit most businesses. This is an excellent starting point but might not reflect the extent of your obligations. As the Commission points out, there might be other Federal laws that might apply to your business, and there can also be applicable legislation at the state or territory government level. If there is any uncertainty as to your obligations, you might wish to have your policy checked by solicitors to ensure that your responsibilities have been fulfilled by the document before presenting it to staff. You don't want to automatically assume that the template is exhaustive and accurate for all types of businesses.
Determining the Process
Though the basic template is customisable, there are a number of pieces of information that you will need to input. There is sufficient clarity as to what constitutes harassment, but the process for dealing with a complaint can vary. Much of this is common sense, as in making yourself (or someone in management) the person of contact if any (confidential) allegations are made. You might wish to have both male and female contact persons in case an accuser feels more comfortable discussing the matter with someone of their own gender. The accuser could also be encouraged to bring an advocate (generally a co-worker) to any discussions for support. The repercussions for misconduct also need to be determined, and these can range from a formal warning to termination of employment.
Spreading the Word
It's not enough to have a copy of the policy for reference, and you need to ensure that everyone in your workplace has received a copy. There can be a reference copy available (both a hardcopy and a digital copy on your company's intranet), but you should provide everyone with their own copy. You could even provide two copies, one for the employee to keep, and another that is to be signed and filed, acknowledging that they have read and understood the document.
Depending on the size of your workforce, you might wish to arrange a team meeting to discuss the implementation of the policy and to answer any questions.