Support for Christian Schools in addressing sexual harassment

Following on from our recent blog on  Sexual Harassment in Christian Schools we have summarised below the key elements of a comprehensive response to the prevention of sexual harassment in Christian schools. 

To meet the requirements in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), and relevant case law schools need to:

 

ONE

Understand and communicate to all staff and students over 16 years that sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful.  



TWO

Where sexual harassment or sex discrimination is found to have occurred, not only can the individual be held liable, but the school can be held liable if demonstrated it did not act, prevent or is found to have encouraged, a workplace culture or practice that enabled such conduct to occur. 

Caution: inaction, ignoring and silence will not protect the school from being held liable. 

A school’s best defence is to actively lead and enforce a workplace culture that does not tolerate any form of misconduct.

 

 

THREE

Take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. Have a sexual harassment policy in place and abide by it.

A sexual harassment policy should reflect the school and at a minimum contain these elements detailed in the AHRC Ending Workplace Sexual Harassment resource

  1. Opening statement from the Principal and Board about their commitment to a safe workplace and a no tolerance approach to any form of harassment, action will be taken, bystanders will be supported, and a high standard of conduct is required of everyone.
  2. Define sexual harassment and state sexual harassment is unlawful.
  3. State the strategy for how the school manages sexual harassment; training, prevention, complaint management processes, encourage reporting of poor conduct.
  4. Explain consequences of breaches of the policy.
  5. Detail responsibility of managers and staff.
  6. Outline help available for staff, for example support services, internal assistance and legal rights.

Provide sexual harassment training – upon employment and annually.

Ensure that staff know who to go to within the school if they have witnessed or experienced any form of harassment.

Promote a culture of no tolerance against workplace harassment. 

  • CSA has a range of flyers designed specifically for the Christian School context, schools may consider having these visible around the school.
  • Ensure work environments, online protocols, verbal discussions and physical interactions are monitored.
  • Be seen to respond. If there is a complaint on any issue within the school take action.  Employees are likely to decide if they raise a concern based on the schools response to other matters.

Policy creation is an excellent opportunity to consult with staff about their views and expectations, to train staff on workplace expectations and processes and equip staff to be active participants in the schools commitment to prevention and action.

 

 

FOUR

Be informed on the action that can arise.

Australian Human Rights Commission

A person who alleges sexual harassment can lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission.  The Commission will firstly seek to conciliate the matter but if that fails, the matter will be referred to a court for hearing.  The complainant may or may not proceed.

The onus of proof is on the person making the complaint.

A court may order reinstatement, payment for damages, redress any loss or damages experienced by the victim or make no order at all.

Fair Work Act 2009 [Cth]

Where an employee has had adverse action taken, for example because they exercised a workplace right can make a general protections claim.  The onus of proof in such a situation on the workplace to demonstrate that adverse action was not taken because the employee made a complaint.

Equally an employee who is dismissed because they are found to have engaged in sexual harassment is able to lodge a claim of unfair dismissal.  The Fair Work Commission will seek to determine if the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.  Schools are reminded that procedural fairness must be maintained during any decision for termination. 

Criminal Charges

Where indecent assault, sexual assault or indecent exposure has occurred, criminal charges may be laid.   An victim of such conduct can formally report the matter to police and schools will need to promptly ensure that appropriate support is arranged for the victim. 

Work Health and Safety

Employers must ensure, as reasonably practical, the health and safety of its employees.  Further, this obligation extends to prevent a foreseeable risk of harm to employees physical and psychological safety.  This again requires that prevention and response is required by employers.

Sexual harassment can also trigger requirements under State or Territory workplace health and safety law.  The applicable regulators have a range of support materials.

To further support schools in promoting workplace cultures free of sexual harassment we have created visual aides tailored specifically for the Christian workplace.  These can be printed as A3 or A4 and displayed appropriately around the school environment.  Principals may also consider making use of this sample letter to staff to communicate the schools position on a zero tolerance to sexual harassment.  These resources can be downloaded from the links below.

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