Yes, your boss really should step in to stop sexual harassment at work
Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week, calls for action against sexual harassment fall on deaf ears, a new employee deals with a sick mum, and the challenge of insecure work.
My boss has told me is doing everything he can to stop sexual harassment at my work but it just keeps happening. I feel like I am hitting my head against a brick wall any time I try to raise the issue. He just agrees it shouldn’t happen, says we have policies in place but then nothing changes. The men I work with continue to stare at me and my other female colleagues, making comments about what we wear, what they think of us and other sexual comments. I really love my job and don’t want to leave but I also don’t seem to be having any luck stopping it from happening. I am frustrated by my boss who acts like it is just ‘one of those things’. What do you recommend?
Your boss really should step in to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.Credit:Dionne Gain
You have many rights in this situation so you should make sure you speak to someone at work you trust to explain what is happening and seek their advice, or else you can make a complaint via the Human Rights Commission. You should not have to put up with this behaviour – ever – and you deserve to feel safe and respected at work. Your boss is neglecting his responsibilities and he is also ignoring the fact that sexual harassment is a workplace health and safety issue for which he is directly responsible. It sounds like your conversations with your boss haven’t gone well; not because of the validity of what you have said but rather because he is clearly not listening. You might want to also check out the resources on the website respect.cew.org.au – it was launched by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and contains loads of great information including how to have these challenging conversations.
Importantly, any leader reading this who isn’t sure how to tackle sexual harassment, please take a look at the resources at respect.cew.org.au as well. As leaders we all need to make sure we use our power and influence to ensure that stories like this are not happening on your watch. You need to understand how to take meaningful action, and not just offer platitudes, during these important conversations. If you don’t you are not only ignoring your responsibilities as a leader but you could potentially be breaching the law.
I started a new job four weeks ago but unfortunately I need to head overseas as my mum is seriously ill and she only has a few weeks left to live. Where do I stand with work and pay? I have a six-month probation period so I’m guessing they could just terminate my contract?
I am very sorry to hear your mother is so unwell. I am sure this must be a distressing time for you and time with your mother is clearly your first priority. In terms of your job, you would hope any understanding employer would appreciate that your mother’s illness was not something you could have predicted or planned for. While they might find it inconvenient to lose you for a time, especially one month into your new role, hopefully they will find a way to be flexible enough to hold the position open for you on your return if you can give them a sense of your future plans. I recommend you be honest with them about what is happening and reassure them you are committed to the position and a future with the company.
I have been working with a company on a contract and they would not make me a permanent part-time employee, despite my asking. This meant when I was pregnant, I had no maternity leave and ended up going back to work after just eight weeks as a result of pressure from them to return. Only a few months later, they pressured me to come into the office and wanted me to work longer hours. I have no child care support and when my baby was sick, I had no carers leave. When I tried to speak to my manager about the challenges I was facing, she said she had had enough of me and to put in writing my intention to leave, which I did. She then blocked my emails and said I was no longer needed. I am now home with my baby and have no work. Is there anything I can do about that?
What a traumatic time you have had with an employer who clearly missed the memo on how to lead with empathy. I have no explanation for why your manager would behave that way other than they also missed the memo on how to be an effective leader in 2022. Unfortunately you have experienced the challenge of insecure work many people on contracts have to contend with.
It sounds like, for whatever reason, your former employer hoped you might terminate your contract. The fact they asked you to put your intention to leave in writing helped them avoid having to terminate it themselves. I suggest you speak to your union, if you belong to one, or else a lawyer to see if you have any rights in terms of the pressure you were put under to terminate your contract. I really wish you and your baby all the best and sincerely hope that the next employer you work with has a heart and is able to help you balance your work and caring responsibilities like any modern leader should.
Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected] Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.
Dr Kirstin Ferguson is a non-executive director, author and regular columnist. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the QUT Business School and former Deputy Chair of the ABC.
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