Here's how to protect workers from 'gendered violence'

'It comes in many forms,' says campaign

Here's how to protect workers from 'gendered violence'

With incidents of work-related gendered violence still “insidiously” ramping up across industries, WorkSafe has recently reminded employers and employees alike that “it comes in many forms,” raising awareness about its risks and consequent harm to workplaces.

As a “serious occupational health and safety hazard,” it can “cause physical and psychological harm,” WorkSafe executive director of health and safety Dr. Narelle Beer said in a media release.

“Work-related gendered violence can be insidious, starting with what might seem like ‘low level’ comments, gestures or ‘jokes’ or escalating to inappropriate contact, stalking and aggression,” Beer added.

What is work-related gendered violence?

According to WorkSafe, “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 creates a risk to health and safety.

The act includes “violence targeted directly at someone specifically” for the following reasons, for example:

  • they are a woman
  • they identify as LGBTIQA+
  • they don’t follow socially prescribed gender roles and stereotypes

WorkSafe also emphasised that “it can also be experienced indirectly.”

“A person may experience gendered violence not targeted specifically at them (such as overhearing a conversation that affects them) or witness violence directed at someone else,” WorkSafe said.

As such, it could include:

  • stalking, intimidation or threats
  • verbal abuse
  • ostracism or exclusion
  • sexually explicit gestures
  • offensive language and imagery
  • put downs, innuendo, and insinuations
  • being undermined in your role or position
  • sexual harassment
  • sexual assault or rape

Duties under the law

“Everyone should feel safe and respected at work, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation,” Beer said.

There are specific duties for employees and employers under occupational and safety laws.

“Acts such as indecent exposure, stalking, sexual assault and obscene or threatening communications (for example, phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and posts on social networking sites) may also be offences under criminal law,” WorkSafe said. “[And] victims may want to report criminal offences to the police.”

What are the duties of an employer against ‘gendered violence’?

“Gendered violence is never ‘just part of the job,’ and employers have a duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent it.” Beer said.

“Sadly, many incidents still go unreported as victims may fear stigma or even losing their job if they speak up, particularly if they are already in insecure employment,” Beer added.

Under occupational health and safety laws, employers” must provide and maintain a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of their employees, so far as is reasonably practicable.” WorkSafe stated that this responsibility even covers independent contractors and their employees.

“Employers must provide and maintain safe systems of work, and give employees the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to do their job safely and without risks to health,” the media release said.

Additionally, consultations with health and safety representatives (HSRs) are required, and such must occur under the following instances:

  • identifying or assessing hazards or risks in the workplace
  • making decisions about measures to be taken to prevent and manage gendered violence risks
  • making decisions about procedures to resolve health or safety issues
  • making decisions about procedures to monitor employee health
  • making decisions about information and training on work-related gendered violence
  • proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of employees

How can HR prevent or address it?

WorkSafe stated the importance of “scanning the workplace culture” and assessing it based on the following criteria. Using the statements provided below, HR should check if:

Are they all true for your workplace?

  • The workplace is gender equitable (for example women and men are fairly evenly distributed across jobs and levels in your organisation; there an even turnover of female staff compared to male staff).
  • Social activities are inclusive.
  • Banter and inappropriate comments are uncommon when staff gather, and if it occurs, people speak up.
  • Everyone is encouraged and confident to actively participate in meetings and forums.
  • There are no offensive materials or posters in the workplace.
  • There are no requirements about employee appearance that might make people feel disrespected and vulnerable (such as uniforms or expectations about wearing makeup).
  • There are no areas in your workplace that are isolated or intimidating to enter.
  • People who have recently started in the workplace are appropriately supported.
  • All employees have access to appropriate facilities, equipment and uniform based on their needs.
  • There is a clear process for an employee to report unwanted behaviour, whether from a manager or a co-worker, confidentially and without fear of reprisals. Reports are processed and appropriate action is taken.
  • Perpetrators are responded to appropriately.
  • Employees are not penalised for reporting inappropriate behaviours – for example by being moved to a different team or restricted in their role and responsibilities.

WorkSafe said that if there are statements above that aren’t reflected in your respective workplace, that would indicate “risk factors” that must be addressed.

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