Sexual harassment

Close up of dictionary entry for the word 'policy'.

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 came into force on 1 August 2011, bringing changes to the way discrimination and sexual harassment are managed in Victoria. This law changes the responsibilities of volunteer organisations in regards to sexual harassment in the workplace.

The key change to be aware of is that the law now protects volunteers and unpaid workers from sexual harassment. Volunteers will have the same protection against sexual harassment as paid employees. Sexual harassment takes many forms and includes any behaviour of a sexual nature that could be reasonably expected to make someone feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

For volunteer organisations there will be some practical implications for the way volunteering is coordinated. Organisations will have a new responsibility under this law to make it clear that sexual harassment is not acceptable. Workplace policies for volunteers will need to protect them from sexual harassment in the same way it protects paid employees.

Select a topic to find out more:

Responsibilities under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010

Under the new legislation, every organisation with volunteer workers will be required to make sure volunteers know sexual harassment is not acceptable and create a workplace culture in which sexual harassment is not tolerated in any form.

This includes setting up policies and procedures to respond appropriately if it does happen.

If harassment occurs, the organisation and the people in charge could both potentially be liable. It is important to have a visible policy on the behaviour that is expected of all staff and volunteers in your organisation.

Volunteer-based organisations should always treat all employees and volunteers in a non-discriminatory manner in areas including recruitment, training, supervision, recognition and reward.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has developed a Self-audit tool, which allows employers to assess their equal opportunity compliance and identify where they need to do more.

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What you should do

Develop a clear policy and process

The best way to make clear what sort of behaviour is expected is to develop and implement a workplace policy.

A policy should reiterate that sexual harassment is against the law and outline:

  • What sexual harassment means
  • What people can do if they have been harassed
  • What will happen if they are accused of harassment.

Your policy will need to establish a procedure for managing complaints of sexual harassment including:

  • Who will deal with complaints
  • How the privacy of those involved will be protected
  • What you will do to try to resolve the issue.

Many organisations already have sexual harassment policies covering their paid staff; if this applies, you could work with your human resources team to extend this to include volunteers.

Promote your policy and process

You also need to make sure that workers and volunteers understand the policy and processes. You can do this by:

  • Including an explanation of the policy in induction for new volunteers and provide ongoing training for staff
  • Asking every member, volunteer, employee and committee or board member to subsequently sign an acknowledgement form confirming they have read the policy and understand what it means.

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Tools and resources

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission - Equal Opportunity Act 2010
A comprehensive guide to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Commissions role, includes an overview of positive duty and special measures, and a range of resources to help you comply.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission - The Right Smart Employers Toolkit
A suite of online tools, including a self-audit tool, which allows employers and organisations to assess their equal opportunity compliance and identify where they need to do more.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission - Volunteering and the Equal Opportunity Act 2010
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has developed an information pack to help organisations understand their responsibilities to volunteers under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

Volunteering Victoria - Sexual Harrassment Policy example (DOC 81KB)
A sample policy and procedure to download and adapt to your organisation; includes definitions, complaints and resolution processes.

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