Workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, is a serious issue for New Zealand. It has become an emerging issue both in this country and overseas.

Harassment and sexual harassment and bullying are common workplace risks. Managing these risks and all other workplace risks is a requirement for businesses under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

Businesses must recognise their risks and have clear processes in place to handle them. This includes creating a culture that identifies appropriate behaviour and values people being able to speak up easily, and speedy resolutions of allegations.

Psychosocial risks such as work-related stress, harassment, sexual harassment and bullying are a focus of our 10-year plan for improving work-related health.

This year, part of our harm prevention work is looking at building our strategic approach and capability in work-related psychosocial harm, including workplace harassment and sexual harassment and bullying.

We are also looking at strengthening worker engagement, participation and representation to create workplace cultures that support good health and safety.

We have published a quick guide for businesses on preventing and responding to sexual harassment at work. We have also published a guide for workers on how a business must manage health and safety risks, including sexual harassment, and what workers should do if they encounter, experience, or are accused of sexual harassment. The new material includes a sexual harassment reporting template, sample policy, and examples of sexual harassment.

The Human Rights Act defines sexual harassment as unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that is repeated or serious enough to have a harmful effect or which contains an implied or overt promise of preferential treatment, or an implied or overt threat of deferential treatment.

Like harassment and bullying, sexual harassment is often subtle and undermining, and the longer this behaviour exists in the workplace, the harder it is to deal with.

There are several options for those wishing to make a complaint about sexual harassment in the workplace.  

The Employment Relations Act provides protection against sexual and racial harassment, which are also covered by the Human Rights Act. Sexual and racial harassment can give grounds for a personal grievance under the ERA or a claim under the Human Rights Act.

The employee decides which of these options to take. The Police should be contacted in the event of incidents which may be criminal.

Sexual harassment issues are rarely raised with us.