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Employers ‘must do more’ on sex abuse

Employers have to walk the walk on sexual harassment and bullying at work, panellists said at a seminar at the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club yesterday.

They added that proper policies and procedures are essential to tackling the longstanding problem.

Tawana Tannock, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission, said: “One of the good things to come out of the heightened awareness of sexual harassment is it's a chance for all of us as people who work in compliance, human rights, employment law or human resources to look at our policies.”

Ms Tannock added it was not enough for companies to insist that each employee should be treated with respect “because in incidences where you don't know what respect looks like, what do you do, what's your reporting mechanisms?”

She added: “Everybody knows to be respectful to everybody else and that is what we expect of you.

“A lot of times you see policies that outline disciplinary action for conduct like stealing materials or giving confidential secrets to somebody else, but when it comes to how we treat each other, a lot of times our policy will say, each employee should treat the other with respect.”

But she asked: “When we are all coming with a different background and with a different frame of reference, what does respect look like?”

Ms Tannock was joined by lawyer Paul Harshaw, of Canterbury Law, and counsellor Cathy Sousa, of Benedict Associates, at the invitation-only seminar.

The event for more than 100 human resources staff was hosted by professional speaker and trainer Jan Fraser.

Ms Fraser talked about personal experiences, gave an overview of what constitutes sexual harassment and bullying, how they are connected, and how to handle such incidents before she called for questions.

Ms Tannock was asked about sexual harassment complaints to the HRC.

She gave examples of two cases the tribunal had adjudicated on.

She also spoke of an experience when she worked in compliance, where a female underwriter felt a broker was being inappropriate at a Christmas party.

Ms Tannock said: “This is why I always say policies and procedures can save you if you implement them because once she reported that to me, I had a duty. I was bound by our guidelines for complaint handling.”

She added: “Having something I had to stick to and that the employees knew I had to stick to, made it much easier.

“It removes the discretion and, I think to a large extent, that is a very good thing because everybody's terms of reference are different.”

Ms Sousa added: “To a firm, obviously having the policies in place and the procedures and following them, is first and foremost.

“I also think that in gathering the information from the complainant, you want to get clear about what it is that they are looking for.

“For you to take something to a level that they don't want to participate in, will end up in a problem for you as the employer.”

Mr Harshaw warned companies of the risks if they ignore complaints.

He said: “Harassment, whether sexual or otherwise, is a two-pronged complaint.

“An employer who allows harassment to continue to the point where the employee feels he or she has no option but to leave the employment, will almost certainly amount to a constructive dismissal.

“That is a breach of the employment Act. But independently of that, it is also a breach of the victim's human rights.”

Ms Sousa highlighted the need for proper support for employees who have been sexually harassed, as well as the creation of a “culture of what's acceptable in your organisation”.

She said: “We have to just be really conscious of the culture that we are creating in our organisation and reinforcing that the workplace is a safe place for employees.

“And if you have to initiate those conversations, if you have to remind people or point things out, then do so because its understanding the standard of what's acceptable.”

Sexual harassment is:

• Sexual comments/jokes

• Inappropriate touching

• Unwelcome sexual advances

• Staring suggestively or wolf whistling

• Suffering consequences as a result of rejecting this conduct

What to do:

• Note and document the incident

• Talk to the person who made advances if you are not intimidated

• Speak to a trusted colleague, supervisor or HR manager

Keynote speakers: from left, Tawana Tannock, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission, Jan Fraser, Paul Harshaw of Canterbury Law and Cathy Sousa of Benedict Associates

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Published November 30, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated November 30, 2017 at 8:27 am)

Employers ‘must do more’ on sex abuse

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