Sexual harassment is not always physical, not always obvious and not always right in front of your own eyes. People often get confused between sexual harassment and sexual assault, with sexual assault a much more severe and unlawful act. However, when it comes to sexual harassment, there are many common incidents that occur in the workplace that are passed off as lame, careless or stupid behaviour, when in fact they are incidents of sexual harassment and should be identified as such by employees and brought to the attention of the person responsible, or to a manager or an HR representative.

Taking a closer look at workplace sexual harassment, we have compiled an easy to understand yet comprehensive list of all the common notions regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, including identification, prevention and how to make complaint about an incident of sexual harassment. As an employer, it is important for your employees to identify and report workplace sexual harassment. Only then can their supervisor, or an HR representative can aid in a resolution and to prevent further incidents occurring. In this blog, we help you understand the difference between myths and facts when it comes to workplace sexual harassment.

Myth #1 – Sexual Harassment is only physical in nature

It can be direct, indirect, verbal and non-verbal. A colleague writing explicit content about another on the office whiteboard is considered as sexual harassment. It doesn’t necessarily need to be physical. Other common subtle sexual behaviour are: whistling, unwelcome complimenting, inappropriate brushing against you, gesturing, commenting on things of sexual nature.

Myth #2 – It’s ok as long as humiliation was not intended

Sexual gesturing and comments directly or indirectly towards another in the name of ’a bit of fun’, or ’just being friendly’ ‘ust a joke’ is still sexual harassment. So when the offender apologises and says that they did not mean it to cause humiliation, that does not mean that the behaviour was ok!

Myth #3 – But it was only a one-off incident, I’m sure it will never happen again

Unlike workplace bullying which is ‘repeated’ unreasonable behaviour towards another person or group which creates a risk to health and safety, sexual harassment can be a one off incident where conduct is unwelcome, of a sexual nature and the kind of behaviour that a reasonable person would think would offend, humiliate or intimidate the person who was harassed. So just as the law defines sexual harassment, any victim should not think that ‘it just happened once, that is ok, and it probably won’t happen again’. You should always seek to report such incidents, either bringing it to the attention of the person if you feel comfortable or reporting that behaviour to your manger, an HR representative or a senior person within the business, to whomever you feel most comfortable with.

Myth #4 – If unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature is carried out by a work colleague outside of the workplace it is not workplace sexual harassment

If an employee is off-site for work-related activities, for example, at an office party in a bar, if they misbehave in a way that is sexual in nature and that causes another to be offended, humiliated or intimidated, then it is considered as workplace sexual harassment.

Myth #5 – Lewd commenting, tagging or any behaviour on social media is not workplace sexual harassment if it happens outside of the hours of work

Regardless of the time of day, if an employee is tagged in inappropriate pictures by another employee without consent, or is bad-mouthed using sexually explicit slurs, through social media, messaging or emailing the victim and it is sufficiently related to the workplace, this behaviour is considered to be workplace sexual harassment.

Workplace compliance courses on the appropriate use of Internet and Social Media, such as the one provided by Sentrient who is Australia’s #1 online workplace compliance provider, deliver further understanding of what to do and not to do when it comes to the internet, email and social media.

Myth #6 – Sexual harassment only happens to women

Men and women can be victims and perpetrators as well. Read more here. Sexual harassment happens to all genders and could be from a man to a woman, man to man, woman to woman or woman to man

Myth #7 – Unreasonable state of mind is excused

Misbehaving when drunk, or under pressure, or when angry can’t be used as an excuse for incidents of sexual harassment and do not stack up in a court of law!

Sexual Harassment in Australian workplaces has been increasing, and not only the employees but also businesses, on the whole, are at a huge risk.

An organisation that has a reliable workplace compliance system in place are able to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to train and also disseminate policies, and that such training and policies have been read and understood, at induction and on an ongoing basis thereafter. Such organisations also train their supervisor and managers in how to identify, report and resolve matters pertaining to bullying, harassment and discrimination. Many such organisations have the Sentrient online workplace compliance system in place to support this.

For a free demo visit here, or to discuss your current workplace relations and safety program and how Sentrient can help, please call us on on 1300 040 589.