Today a jury in the US found DJ David Mueller guilty of assault and battery against pop star Taylor Swift, for putting his hand up her skirt and groping her at a party. For the many women around the world who have been subject to sexual harassment or assault, this was a vindicating moment.
Most workplaces these days have come a long way in how they deal with sexual harassment allegations, with comprehensive policies and procedures that comply with the relevant laws while being as just and fair as possible. Many community groups and small not-for-profits, however, still have a long way to go.
It’s easy to see how developing these policies can be put off. They’re complex, difficult to get right and may even require legal advice. When a volunteer board has its hands full keeping the organisation running, policies and procedures often get put on the backburner or take a very long time to come to fruition.
Unfortunately, many community groups only realise how important these things are when they’re needed, which is far too late. It’s not unusual for a community group to go into meltdown over a sexual harassment allegation when it doesn’t have a policy or procedure to follow. The resulting process risks being neither just nor fair, and may fail to conform to best practice for investigating these sorts of allegations as set out by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The complainant may also have grounds for a complaint to either the AHRC or their state-based anti-discrimination authority due to failures in the process, which could end up being drawn-out, painful and costly for all involved. Dealing with sexual harassment allegations is never going to be easy, but having a proper process will make it less traumatic for both the complainant and the accused, and will increase the chances of a satisfactory resolution for all parties.
If your organisation doesn’t have a sexual harassment policy, the time to develop one is now. The good news is there are plenty of resources available to help you.
- The Australian Human Rights Commission produces a number of in-depth, easy-to-understand resources on this issue – a good place to start is How to Implement an Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy in Your Workplace. Although this is targeted at employers, especially small businesses, the principles also apply to community groups. The publication Effectively Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment: A Quick Guide is also worth reading.
- State and territory anti-discrimination authorities produce their own publications, so check the website of the relevant body in your state or territory.
- New South Wales – NSW Anti-Discrimination Board
- Victoria – Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
- Queensland – Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland
- South Australia – SA Equal Opportunity Commission
- Western Australia – WA Equal Opportunity Commission
- Tasmania – Equal Opportunity Tasmania
- Australian Capital Territory – ACT Human Rights Commission
- Northern Territory – NT Anti-Discrimination Commission
- The Not-For-Profit Law Information Hub has a useful factsheet on Volunteers and Unlawful Workplace Behaviour.
Developing these sorts of policies and procedures isn’t just about protecting your organisation – it’s about ensuring all parties are treated justly and fairly, and that the process is transparent and well-executed. You may think the cost in time and potentially money (should you require legal advice) is high – but the cost of not doing it can be far higher.