From Compliance to Care: Strategies for Effective Reporting and Responding to Workplace Harassment

The new positive duty implicitly aims to eliminate workplace harassment. But total elimination is not always practically feasible. When incidents of sexual harassment do occur, how an organisation handles the reporting of and response constitutes an important message regarding how serious the organisation is in dealing with them.

Processes used in the past for handling sexual harassment incidents have often fallen short, leaving victims unsupported and hesitant to report. Victims were often left to devise their own coping strategies and make critical decisions about whether to report incidents. The systems used previously have been opaque, inaccessible and victims contemplating registering a complaint faced daunting personal challenges. Weighing up all the factors most victims historically elected not to report. According to an AHRC survey, only about 18% of sexual harassment occurrences are reported.

The AHRC guidelines chart a new course for reporting and responding to sexual harassment. Underpinning

this new paradigm is the imperative to demonstrate that the organisation has shifted from a compliance mindset to one of support, empathy and fairness.

Victims must believe that the organisation treats reporting as vital for a respectful workplace culture. Furthermore, the organisation must convey to all that it will respond promptly, firmly and fairly to any complaint, and that no victim should have to weigh up a desire to report against possible adverse career or reputational considerations.

By incorporating reporting and response comprehensive strategies, organisations not only reshape the perception of reporting and response but also actively contribute to fostering a workplace culture centred on empathy, support, and core values of respect. This paradigm shift signifies a commitment to creating an environment where every individuals feel secure, heard, and valued. It propels the organisation toward a future where reporting incidents of sexual harassment is not only encouraged but is seen as a vital step in building a workplace founded on principles of dignity, equity, and respect for all.



Practical guidelines

to equip leaders and organisations with the tools they need to meet the positive duty:



Ensure that information on reporting procedures is readily available and communicated in clear, accessible language.

Provide comprehensive and easily understandable resources guiding individuals through the reporting process.




Prioritize efficiency, aiming for a reporting and response process free of unnecessary delays.
Establish and communicate clear timelines for each stage of the process, adhering to them consistently.



Clearly explain possible outcomes to individuals involved in the reporting process.
Foster transparency, ensuring affected parties understand the steps being taken and potential consequences.



Establish diverse reporting pathways, encompassing formal and informal channels, internal and external options.
Recognize the need for varied reporting methods, providing choices to cater to different preferences.



Ensure all processes are fair to all parties involved.
Conduct impartial and thorough investigations, displaying a commitment to fairness regardless of the role or seniority of the perpetrator.



Maintain consistency in consequences for similar infractions, applying them uniformly across the organization.
Uphold a fair and just system where the severity of consequences aligns with the nature of the offense.



Train individuals responsible for receiving reports and managing responses to understand trauma and its ongoing impact.
Prioritize empathy, avoiding actions that may cause further harm to those involved.



Explicitly prohibit victimization within the organisation, outlining clear consequences for such behaviour.
Cultivate a culture that condemns retaliation, encouraging open reporting without fear of reprisals.



Handle report information on a need-to-know basis, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of individuals involved.
Clearly communicate the organisation’s commitment to maintaining confidentiality throughout the process.


If the strategy above is implemented it will almost certainly reconfigure the attitude of many victims and instill in them a confidence that both the reporting and response element will treat them fairly.