The Australian Human Rights Commission recently released the results of the sexual
harassment national telephone survey for 2012 entitled “Working without fear.”
This is the third survey of its type conducted by the Commission and it
compares the findings with the previous 2003 and 2008 surveys.
The survey shows that sexual harassment is widespread in Australian workplaces and
is an “on-going and common occurrence.” One conclusion the report came to is
“it is important for employers to ensure that prevention strategies cover the
full range of behaviours that are likely to constitute unlawful sexual
harassment. This includes sexual harassment that occurs through different
mediums (e.g. in person, via mobile telephone, through email / the Internet and
In 2011 Australia amended the legal definition of sexual harassment to: “Sexual harassment is an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which, in the circumstances, a reasonable person, aware of those circumstances, would anticipate the possibility that the person would feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”
The revised definition of sexual harassment includes circumstances in which a reasonable person would anticipate the possibility that the other person would be offended,
humiliated or intimidated by the behaviour. This is a lower threshold than the
previous test, which required that a reasonable person would have
anticipated that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or
Sexual harassment can take many different forms and in Australia this includes crude
or offensive behaviour such as displaying sexually explicit pictures and
sending sexually explicit emails.
Under the new definition if an employee sends a sexually explicit email to a
colleague and a reasonable person would anticipate the possibility that the recipient
would feel offended, humiliated or intimated by the email then the incident
would be a form of sexual harassment.
Most notable change between the 2008 National Survey and the 2012 National Survey
was the decline in people who reported receiving sexually explicit email or
text messages which went from 22% to 17%. This change shows that the risks of
sexual harassment caused by electronic pornography can be mitigated through a
combination of policy and technology.
When combined with a well drafted email policy, technologies like Image Analyzer
allow organisations to monitor adherence, educate users on an on-going basis
and enforce the policy when required which helps ensure employees are not
ignorant of company policy.
“A written policy on its own is insufficient. A policy that is not implemented
through communication, education and enforcement will be of little or no use in
discharging liability.” Australian Human Rights Commission
While email is only one of many vehicles for sexual harassment it is a form that can
be easily managed by the business. How
email is used to communicate can influence the culture of the business for either
good or bad. It is essential that
businesses take control of this medium and not allow it to be used as a tool
that helps foster a hostile working environment.
The full results of the National Survey can be found here