How to handle harassment at work

Retail workers including pharmacy assistants continue to be subjected to a significant amount of sexual harassment in the workplace – and the Guild expects “zero tolerance” by employers

In response to previous data on the issue, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employee’s Association (SDA), which represents workers including pharmacy assistants, approached the Human Rights Commission to conduct a “comprehensive” survey of its members.

Around 60% of the SDA’s members are female, and members are primarily employed in the retail, fast food, and warehouse sectors.

The new data showed that most members had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime, with female members saying they experienced “all types” of sexual harassment at higher rates than male colleagues.

The survey asked members to outline their most recent incident of workplace sexual harassment in the last five years, and found that:

  • the two most common types of workplace sexual harassment experienced by female SDA members were sexually suggestive comments or offensive jokes (26%) and inappropriate staring of leering that made them feel intimidated (20%);
  • more than half (57%) of SDA members said they had experienced the same (or a similar) type of workplace sexual harassment on more than one occasion, compared to 49% of the working population;
  • for 53% of SDA members who had experienced repeated workplace sexual harassment in their workplace, the harassment was experienced over a period of seven months or more;
  • three-quarters (75%) of the most recent incidents of workplace sexual harassment experienced by SDA members took place at the individual’s workstation or the area where they worked, compared to 52% for the working population; and
  • just over a quarter (26%) of SDA members said the most recent incident of workplace sexual harassment was witnessed by one or more bystanders, while the rate was 40% for the working population.

Overall, in the last five years 39% of SDA members said they had been sexually harassed at work – 46% of female members, and 29% of male members.

One in five (21%) of SDA members said they had been sexually harassed by a customer in their current job, with female SDA members more likely to have had this experience (28%) than male SDA members (11%).

Harassment could also take place online, in the form of sexually explicit comments in emails or on social media, or repeated or inappropriate advances on email or social media.

Most people who were subjected to workplace harassment suffered negative consequences, such as anxiety (40%), loss of self esteem (23%) and depression (18%) – and in 6% of cases, suicidal ideation.

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild told the AJP that it advises members to comply with all regulations and relevant laws – and to take a “zero tolerance” approach to the issue.

“To ensure this approach is taken and adhered to, the Guild advises that the grievance process in individual pharmacies should clearly state who the contact person within the organisation is and how to contact them,” the spokesperson said.

“A second person can be nominated in the event that staff are not comfortable raising a concern with their manager or supervisor.

“When a complaint is received it must be dealt with in a timely manner and that the contact person and managers are adequately trained in dealing with the issues.”

The Guild spokesperson advised on risks to be aware of when dealing with any complaints:

  • Adverse Action: Employees have a workplace right under the Fair Work Act 2009 general protections provision to make a complaint about bullying.
  • Victimisation: i.e. treating a person unfairly because they made a complaint.

It also advised on steps that can be taken to ensure the risk of bullying, harassment and discrimination is minimised in the workplace

  • Implement a workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination policy and ensure that it is placed somewhere employees can read.
  • Conduct a bullying, harassment and discrimination risk assessment of the workplace.
  • Develop performance management procedures that include reasonable management action.
  • Communication and consultation of change with employees.
  • Provide mentoring opportunities for employees.
  • Ensure you have an effective formal and informal grievance procedure in place.
  • Provide a high level of confidentiality when dealing with any and all grievances.
  • Provide access to employee assistance programs.
  • Review all policies and procedures on a regular basis.

“This report is an important step in addressing both the systemic drivers which underpin workplace sexual harassment in the working population, as well as factors which are unique to the workplaces of SDA members. I commend the SDA for its commitment to eliminating workplace sexual harassment,” wrote Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in her forward to the report.

“I also encourage other industries, employers and employee organisations to reflect on the discussion in this report and consider how they too can learn, collaborate and take further steps to ensure that all workplaces are free from sexual harassment.”

Read the full report here.

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‘Sexual harassment is never acceptable in the workplace.’

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