Employee Behaviour in the Spotlight

The exposure of the toxic workplace culture in Australia’s Parliament has brought attention to the importance of policies that address employee behaviour and related training.

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The exposure of the toxic workplace culture in Australia’s Parliament has brought attention to the importance of policies that address employee behaviour and related training.

In April this year, the Federal Government released a document entitled Roadmap for Respect, in response to the Respect@Work report, which sets out a blueprint for taking proactive steps to stamp out sexual harassment. This is an approach all employers should consider.

The Federal Government has confirmed that by the end of July 2021, it will release legislative changes flowing from its Respect@Work response.

The Government’s response to the Respect@Work report is to promise amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to align it with model WHS laws.

The Government’s response to the report also said it would make changes to the Fair Work Act extending to:

  • clarifying that an anti-bullying order is available in the context of sexual harassment;
  • clarify that sexual harassment can be conduct amounting to a valid reason for dismissal in determining whether a dismissal is harsh, unjust or unreasonable; and
  • changing the definition of “serious misconduct” to include sexual harassment.

The behaviour of employees in the workplace has a massive impact on a business’s operations and its success.

In an age in which perceptions of companies are shared widely via the internet, a company that has a reputation for unprofessional behaviour puts that company at a disadvantage. As employees who behave poorly toward one another often behave the same way with customers, it may become difficult to keep existing customers and to bring in new ones.

All employers need to reinforce the expectations for fair, respectful and reasonable treatment between co-workers. This requires having up-to-date workplace policies as well as regular policy training.

Risks and vicarious liability

An employer may be held vicariously liable for the actions of an employee which are committed in the course of employment. An employer can be found responsible for a victim’s illness/injury or for the actions of the employee who acted inappropriately. However, a defence against vicarious liability can be established if an employer is able to demonstrate that it has taken ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure its employees do not engage in unlawful conduct.

Importantly, regular and ongoing training on workplace policies is an effective method to prevent discrimination and harassment and is a likely indication of “reasonable steps”.

Benefits of workplace behaviour training

An employer’s vicarious liability for unlawful behaviour of its workers can be minimised if the organisation can demonstrate effective workplace behaviour training.

This kind of training should aim to:

  • enhance general awareness of the behaviour that creates potential legal liability, both for the perpetrators and their employer;
  • educate workers of the options available to them to do something about inappropriate behaviour;
  • reflect the specific working environment of the workplace; and
  • shape expectations by having in place regularly updated workplace policies and practices.

NatRoad advisers are able to assist with the drafting of workplace policies and with in-house training.

NatRoad communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Our advisors are available to clarify any questions you have and provide the right advice for your business and workforce. Contact NatRoad on (02) 6295 3000.