«The law is broken and fails to protect workers from sexual harassment,” Ms Nawaz said.
“We know that sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is at endemic levels, and the current legal framework is woefully inadequate. We need immediate and systemic law and cultural reform to reduce sexual harassment, and increase access to justice for people who do experience sexual harassment in their workplaces.”
The report says that while one in two women and one in four men experience sexual harassment, barriers to reporting sexual harassment in workplaces remain, with fewer than one in five people making a formal complaint.
The report includes case studies from women including one who asked her boss how she could help with a work task. He replied: «You can help me with a menage a trois». He pulled the worker onto his lap and called it foreplay and took her to a dark cupboard to offer her a permanent job. He frequently stripped down to his underwear and work at his desk.
When the worker complained to human resources she was told her manager was «meeting all his targets» and no action was taken.
Sharmilla Bargon from Redfern Legal Centre said reports at work were «skyrocketing».
“The escalating levels of sexual harassment we’re seeing have completely blown out and are simply unacceptable. We regularly advise clients who have been sexually harassed and are then fired or bullied when they report it,» she said.
«We also know that women with disability, LGBTQ+ people, Indigenous women, young people and women of colour are more likely to experience sexual harassment.
“We need harsher penalties for employers who refuse to institute transparent and effective complaints procedures, and who victimise complainants rather than disciplining perpetrators.”
Assistant principal solicitor at Women’s Legal Service NSW Pip Davis said sexual harassment is a form of violence against women.
«Governments at the state and federal level, and individual workplaces must act to implement these recommendations to ensure everyone feels safe at work,” Ms Davis said.
The recommendations also include imposing an obligation on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment or face civil penalties for a breach of this duty.
The report also recommends amending the Fair Work Act to expressly prohibit sexual harassment. Sexual harassment should also be listed as an example of serious misconduct.
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman who from Monday will also be the new Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence said he will ask the Department of Justice to consider the report’s recommendations relating to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act (1977).
«Sexual harassment is appalling conduct which degrades its mostly female victims and damages society,» he said.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter. Her reports on inequity in schools funding led to the Gonski reforms and won her national awards. Her coverage of health exposed unnecessary patient deaths at Campbelltown Hospital and led to judicial and parliamentary inquiries. At The Times of London, she exposed flaws in international medical trials.