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Company confusion over sexual harassment laws

Understanding the law: Latisha Lister-Burgess, executive director of the Employee Assistance Programme, says there should be a bullying and sexual harassment policy in every company handbook, and every new employee should get a copy (Photograph supplied)

There remains confusion and lack of awareness among companies of their legal responsibilities under a near two-year-old provision to combat sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.

And companies found in violation could face fines up to $10,000.

The revelation has led to a new training emphasis by the Employee Assistance Programme.

People management, workforce incivility and sexual harassment are some of the topics covered in this year’s newly-unveiled roster of EAP’s Thursday training sessions.

EAP executive director Latisha Lister-Burgess decided to tackle sexual harassment and bullying when some organisations reached out asking if they were obliged to have a policy.

The answer is yes, by law.

Under a 2020 amendment to the Employment Act 2000, penalties for failing to have a bullying and sexual harassment policy, and make it available to employees, could be up to $5,000 if awarded by the manager of Labour Relations, and up to $10,000 if awarded by the Employment and Labour Relations Tribunal.

The change came into effect in June 2021, but, according to Ms Lister-Burgess, some companies are still confused by the changes or completely unaware of them.

“You are supposed to be giving this policy to people when they start their job,” Ms Lister-Burgess said. “And there should be a policy in your employee handbook.”

She thinks it has taken a little while for the penny to drop, because the changes happened in the middle of the pandemic.

“There were a lot of other things going on,” she said. “Some organisations asked us for training to cover the grey areas.”

The amendments require the employee’s statement of employment to lay out particulars such as: meal breaks, rest periods, overtime pay, work permit particulars and the existence of the employer’s policy against bullying and sexual harassment.

“The Human Rights Commission has shared with us that bullying and sexual harassment are among the most common issues that people have come to them about in the last two years,” Ms Lister-Burgess said.

Their course, Bullying & Sexual Harassment, will be held on October 26, and will look at institutional bullying, addressing complaints, responsibility of managers and supervisors, and how management and employees can intervene to assist victims.

“We wanted to deliberately create training, to help people better understand the changes in the law,” Ms Lister-Burgess said.

EAP began offering training courses virtually, during the pandemic because people were nervous about coming to a class with other people, or could not, due to social distancing requirements.

Now that the world seems to be emerging from the pandemic, EAP will continue to offer courses this way, but participants can also request on-site training.

“That is the gift of Covid-19,” Ms Lister-Burgess said. “It makes things easier for people. You don’t have to worry about parking and getting somewhere.”

EAP holds its first course of 2023 on January 19, with The Self-Aware Manager.

“A manager’s effectiveness largely depends on their level of self-awareness,” Ms Lister-Burgess said. “This workshop aims to give leaders a better understanding of their own emotional needs and that of their employees as well as the overall impact of developing EQ (Emotional Quotient or Emotional Intelligence) as a key differentiator.”

Starting in February, EAP will hold a six-week course: Franklin Covey Six Critical Practices for Leading a Team.

In their March course, Leadership and Management Fundamentals, participants will assess their management style as they explore the role of a manager and establish a foundation for good leadership and management practice. Jenny Smatt of Ontru will facilitate this course.

“In order to increase their effectiveness, managers will learn, reinforce and strengthen relationships across their teams, how to set direction and manage performance and enable positive decision-making,” Ms Lister-Burgess said.

Other courses will include: Managing Performance and Difficult Conversations, Supporting Staff/People in Crisis, Building a Winning Team and Leveraging Generational Differences, Savvy Development Planning, Incivility in the Workplace for employers and employees.

EAP Training

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Published January 12, 2023 at 8:05 am (Updated January 12, 2023 at 8:05 am)

Company confusion over sexual harassment laws

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