Friday, 09 January 2015 14:33

Sexual harassment vs. lawful sexual activity

In an effort to curb sexual harassment, US retailer American Apparel is attempting to ban workplace relationship and recently fired founder and CEO, Dov Charney, for alleged misconduct. While it's imperative to take workplace sexual harassment seriously, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins says that having a policy actually banning workplace romances would be culturally unacceptable in Australia.

And, in fact, lawful sexual activity is one of the attributes protected under Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act 2010. Lawful sexual activity includes taking part in, or choosing not to take part in, any form of sexual activity that is legal in Victoria.

Ms Jenkins notes that a significant number of marriages and relationships begin at work, so banning relationships is counter-productive at best, driving them underground.

However, Ms Jenkins also observed that over the past five years Australian boards have "wised up" about the legal and reputational risks involved when chief executives and senior executives embark on workplace relationships.

In general boards now deal with sexual harassment "like they would occupational health and safety, they don’t need to know it all but they need to act and make sure procedures are in place", Ms Jenkins said.

Sexual harassment is against the law under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and is defined as unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

The law also covers volunteers and unpaid workers, giving them the same rights and responsibilities as paid staff in relation to sexual harassment.

If you have any questions about sexual harassment, discrimination or the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, call our Enquiry Line on 1300 292 153.

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