In Victoria, employers have a positive duty under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to take reasonable and proportionate measures to prevent workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation. Such a positive duty, means that employers have to take proactive steps to address sexual harassment, rather than just respond to it if or when it occurs. Even if employees do not make a complaint, employers have an obligation to put in place proactive preventative measures.
The recently introduced Respect@Work Bill will legislate a positive duty at the Commonwealth level, extending this obligation to employers nationwide.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) recently conducted an investigation, in full co-operation and collaboration with the company, into the way Bakers Delight Holdings prevents sexual harassment in its company-owned workplaces and franchise network. VEOHRC found that, as is the case for many employers, there were gaps in Bakers Delight Holdings’ compliance with the positive duty.
While Bakers Delight Holdings had already taken steps to develop policies and processes to address sexual harassment, more needed to be done to prevent sexual harassment and make their workplaces safer for workers. At the conclusion of the investigation, VEOHRC and Bakers Delight Holdings entered into a compliance agreement, under which Bakers Delight has agreed to take steps to bring its practices in line with the standards required by the positive duty.
Some of the key takeaways for retailers from the investigation:
- Employers’ workplace policies need to include a sexual harassment prevention plan and this should incorporate regular risk assessments
- All employees should be trained in how to prevent and respond to reports of sexual harassment
- Employers need to ensure employees know how they can report instances of harassment
- In some circumstances, head franchisors will need to take positive steps to prevent sexual harassment in franchise stores
The full report and compliance agreement can be accessed here: Investigation: Preventing sexual harassment in retail franchises | Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission