How to create a workplace that is free from gendered-violence.
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Step 1: Learn about work-related gendered violence including sexual harassment
What is work-related gendered violence?
Work-related gendered violence is any behaviour directed at any person, or that affects a person, because of their sex, gender or sexual orientation, or because they do not adhere to socially prescribed gender roles, that causes a risk to health and safety. This includes violence targeted directly at someone specifically because they:
are a woman
identify as LGBTIQA+
don't follow socially prescribed gender roles and stereotypes
Work-related gendered violence can range in severity and can occur inside and outside of work hours, at work-related events and on social media. It can also be experienced indirectly, such as overhearing a conversation or witnessing violence directed at someone else.
Some examples of work-related gendered violence include:
offensive gestures, language and imagery
stalking, intimidation or threats
sexual harassment, assault or even rape
Gendered-violence is a broad term, and sexual harassment may be one example. It doesn't matter how it is intended. What matters is how it is received.
It's important to be sensitive to, and aware that, gendered-violence including sexual harassment can be unrelated to work, but still impact an employee while at work. The predictability of work hours and working locations make employees experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence particularly vulnerable. The strain of dealing with abuse may impact an employee's productivity, performance and wellbeing. The perpetrator may also harass and threaten other employees, placing these employees at risk.
How does gendered violence affect your business?
Work-related gendered violence can harm your business in several ways. It can lead to lower productivity, reduced morale and increased absences and mental injury claims. It could even lead to staff resignations, requiring additional time and money to hire and train new staff.
What are your rights and responsibilities at work?
Employers must provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and free from risks to health, including psychological health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This means doing everything a reasonable person in the same position would do.
Employers must consult with employees on a range of workplace issues including health and safety issues that affect, or are likely to affect, them.
Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety in the workplace, and the health and safety of others. They must also cooperate with employers to create a safe environment, and they must not deliberately cause harm.
To understand your responsibilities as an employer, check out the WorkSafe Guidance on Gendered Violence (See - More information). To prevent gendered violence in your workplace, follow the risk management process below.
Step 2: Consult your employees
Consultation can be done in a number of ways. Depending on your workplace, it can be as simple as casually walking around your workplace having a conversation, or as formal as setting up a health and safety committee.
Good consultation has lots of benefits – it leads to better decision making and greater cooperation and trust between employers and employees, who get a better understanding of each other's views.
Consultation isn't just good practice though, it's actually a legal requirement for employers. Employers must consult with employees, including health and safety representatives (if any), when identifying or assessing hazards that do, or are likely to directly affect their health and safety. This includes identifying whether gendered violence may be a hazard at the workplace, and working out how to eliminate or reduce the risk of it occurring. At a minimum, it must involve sharing information about the issue, giving reasonable opportunity to employees to share their views on that issue, and taking those views into consideration.
To learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as how best to consult:
Step 3: Identify hazards and risks
A hazard is a term that means anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Think of hazards like 'situations' or 'things' in the workplace that can hurt someone, either physically or mentally. The risk is the potential of it actually happening.
For example, a cable on the floor is a physical hazard. The risk is tripping on that cable and being physically injured. The same applies to hazards that affect our mental health – these are known as psychosocial hazards.
Work-related gendered violence is an example of a psychosocial hazard. The risk is that someone will develop either a physical or psychological injury as a result of being exposed to gendered-violence in the workplace, such as sexual harassment or being threatened because of their gender.
Examples of work-related gendered violence
An employer questions or makes negative comments about an employee's sexual orientation or the way they look.
People make disparaging jokes about gay relationships in the staffroom, making a gay colleague at a neighbouring table feel threatened and excluded.
An employer tells employees they have to wear clothing to look appealing to the customers.
A transgender person overhears co-workers complaining about them using the gender-specific toilets.
Often multiple hazards can be present at the same time and can combine to increase the risk of harm occurring. Identifying work-related gendered violence as a hazard and understanding factors that contribute to it occurring is the best way to prevent it from happening.
Factors that can contribute to work-related gendered violence
Power is distributed unequally along gendered lines. For example, workplaces where men control positions of power, and/or women are in casual employment.
There is a culture of sexism, homophobia and norms that support gendered violence.
Violent and aggressive behaviour is supported, accepted and rewarded.
Managing these factors well should decrease the risk of gendered violence.
Step 4: Assess and control risks
Assess the risk of work-related gendered violence occurring
A risk assessment will help you understand the risks to your employees' health, and how to prioritise your efforts to manage them.
It is good practice to identify hazards, either individually or together, which are creating risks to health and safety. Once you have identified the hazards, you can assess the risk of them occurring.
Gendered violence may co-occur with another hazard. For example, poor support from leadership may increase the risk of work-related gendered violence. Look at the 'root cause' of the problem, rather than just the work-related gendered violence behaviour itself.
Consider how often and for how long employees are exposed to work-related gendered violence. Think about the potential impacts on mental and physical health if the risk is not managed. Work-related gendered violence can be a single incident, or it can build up over time.
Control the risks of work-related gendered violence
A control simply means 'ways to manage' an issue. Controls are things you put in place to eliminate or reduce risks. The list could be endless, but it's really just about taking action, so far as reasonably practicable, to manage the risk of gendered violence happening in your workplace.
Here are some ways that employers can take action (or 'implement a control') to create a safe workplace.
Employers should encourage employees to report incidents promptly. Employees need to know that all reports are confidential, and they will not be blamed or penalised, or receive further harm.
Witnesses to work-related gendered violence are often best placed to intervene when it occurs. Witnesses taking action is an effective strategy that provides the earliest possible intervention. Encourage bystanders to intervene but only when they feel safe to do so.
Employers and managers set the workplace culture. They should model desired workplace behaviours of equality and respect by championing a culture that is free from sexist and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours. They should be supportive of employees who experience violence and integrate gender equality into core business.
During onboarding, employers should discuss acceptable behaviours and refer to relevant OHS policies and procedures. Employees should also receive regular training on how to prevent and respond to work-related gendered violence. Employees should also receive bystander training on when and how to intervene. This will build skills such as including practising brief responses to and verbally discourage unwanted behaviours and knowing when to anonymously reporting the behaviour to the employer if it does not stop. Employers should advise bystanders they will receive support.
If you have a policy, make sure everyone knows where to find it!
Remember to measure the effectiveness of existing controls to see if they’re working and look for new ways to control the risks.
Step 5: Share, review and improve
A safe and mentally healthy workplace needs ongoing commitment and engagement.
If you have a work-related gendered violence policy, aim to review it every year or when new information about gendered violence becomes available. You want to check whether the controls you've implemented are still relevant and effective (i.e. training, reporting).
By sharing the outcomes of these reviews, as well as suggestions and recommendations for improvements, you can keep the conversation going.This will continue to build trust and cooperation between you and your employees. Consultation must be undertaken before making any changes and these changes must be communicated to your employees.
Set a calendar appointment now to review your policy in 12 months.
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