May 2021 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine

Around the country the topic of sexual harassment has been a common theme recently. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 72 per cent of Australians over the age of 15 have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetimes, with 23 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men reporting they have been sexually harassed at work in the last 12 months. To effectively tackle this issue, it is important to highlight practical methods horticulture employers can implement on the ground.  

 The Fair Farms Standard promotes that businesses have policies and procedures in place to ensure workers are free from sexual harassment. 

What is sexual harassment? 

Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour where a reasonable person would have anticipated that behaviour would make someone feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated. It has nothing to do with mutual attraction or consensual behaviour. Whether or not behaviour is unwelcome is subjective. This means that the recipient of the behaviour is the ultimate decider of whether it is acceptable. Therefore, it is important to not make assumptions, treat everyone with the utmost respect and place your employees at the heart of your policies and procedures.   

Examples of sexual harassment include:  

  • staring, leering or unwelcome touching  
  • suggestive comments or jokes  
  • unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sex 
  • intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body  
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person 
  • emailing pornography or rude jokes  
  • displaying images of a sexual nature around the workplace. 

You may be found vicariously liable for sexual harassment in your workplace if you did not take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the sexual harassment from occurring. What constitutes ‘all reasonable steps’ is different for every business. Generally, the larger your business is, the more resources and effort you should be able to input into preventing harassment. 

What can employers do? 

Sexual harassment can have very negative effects in the workplace beyond the harm made to victims, including reduced morale, absenteeism and injuring your reputation. As an employer you have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to actively prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Ways of doing this include:  

  • creating a healthy and safe work environment based on respect 
  • developing and implementing a sexual harassment policy and procedure  
  • providing or facilitating education and training on sexual harassment.  

An important aspect to preventing sexual harassment is developing and implementing a written policy and procedure outlining that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace. This policy can form a part of your broader bullying, harassment, abuse & discrimination policy. You should develop the policy based on your unique business needs, but generally the policy should identify the following elements:  

  • communicate that sexual harassment will not be tolerated 
  • communicate that sexual harassment is unlawful 
  • outline the procedures for addressing and dealing with sexual harassment 
  • explain the consequences of breaching the policy 
  • identify everyone’s responsibility for dealing with sexual harassment, including staff and management 
  • outline any external avenues for staff dealing with sexual harassment.  

Once you have developed your policy and procedure, ensure it is implemented. Communicate your expectations to staff through their induction process and meetings, ensuring managers and supervisors are trained in how to implement the policy. 

While policies and procedures are very important, they have no teeth without a culture and work environment that is healthy, safe, and based on courtesy and respect. You can promote a healthy and safe work environment by:  

  • Setting expectations with any senior management and supervisors to model appropriate behaviour and response to complaints swiftly and fairly 
  • responding promptly to any concerns raised  
  • supporting and encouraging bystanders to report inappropriate behaviour.  

The Fair Farms Standard addresses this topic and much more in a way that is as simple as it can be for Australian growers to comply with legislation and consumer expectations. Fair Farms stands by farmers who stand for fair work. We are here to help raise awareness and improve culture one business at a time for the entire Australian horticulture industry to thrive.