Supporting people before, during and after an incident
Organisations can put in place systems and practices that supports workers before, during and after an incident of sexual harassment occurs in the workplace.
As part of a people-centred approach, support for your people should be built into each step of the response process and system so victims feel supported to come forward, and all parties involved feel supported, throughout the process as well as after it has concluded.
Support for people before a matter
Creating a safe, respectful and inclusive work culture is fundamental to primary prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. People need to feel comfortable about speaking up, as a target of sexual harassment or a bystander to sexual harassment. See our section about organisational culture for help on supporting your people before incidents arise.
Support for people during a matter
Safety and wellbeing support
To provide a physically and psychologically safe workplace, the Commission encourages organisations to develop a safety and wellbeing framework that is incorporated into the resolution and/or investigation processes. The framework should provide support for all people involved – such as the victim, alleged perpetrator, bystanders/witnesses, decision makers and investigators.
Approaches to this framework will vary depending on the size of your organisation, and the capability and resources available. Some larger organisations may have dedicated health and safety or HR teams dedicated to provide support, whereas smaller organisations may rely on people leaders. Whatever the approach, there are a number of key considerations:
- Where possible, have separate people providing support, investigating and making decisions about outcomes. This can help avoid risk of bias or conflict of interest jeopardising the integrity of an investigation (or other resolution process) which can arise when the roles are combined. For example, when an investigator also plays the role of wellbeing support for the victim, their objectivity as an investigator may be compromised through their close connection with the victim as the key support person, thereby calling the entire process into question.
- Provide adequate training, information and resources to those whose role it is to support the impacted individual, including about the importance of confidentiality – this could include accredited mental health first aid (MHFA) training, and education on trauma and sexual harassment specifically designed for those who support victims.
- Establish clear parameters and clarify responsibilities for those providing support to prevent boundaries being crossed or lines becoming blurred.
- Develop or adopt an MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) action plan as a tool to support the provision of mental health first aid.
Mental Health First Aid Australia uses the MFHA Action Plan ALGEE® :
Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis
Listen and communicate non-judgmentally
Give support and information
Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
Encourage other supports.
Employee Assistance Programs
Another avenue for support is a workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is an employer funded intervention program designed to enhance the emotional wellbeing of employees. EAP is an independent, confidential professional counselling support service to help employees identify and resolve workplace or personal problems that may be impacting on their work performance or general wellbeing, including the impact of sexual harassment. However, organisations are now recognising the benefits of supporting peoples’ wellbeing more holistically, and as such the suite of EAP assistance is expanding. Many organisations are now offering EAP to cover broader wellbeing support, for example, leader support, financial and legal advice, mentoring, wellbeing coaching, and dietary and health consultations, in addition to counselling support. This can be especially valuable in cases of sexual harassment.
Accessible information about external support
It is important to ensure that everyone in your workplace has information about external support options that is accessible and easy to understand. This information may be in multiple locations, such as:
- in your resolution procedure
- on your organisations intranet page that is in an easy, intuitive place to locate
- posters in common areas
- discussed at induction for new starters
- communicated regularly by leaders
A list of external supports can be found on the Australian Human Rights Commissions website here.
First responder support
First responders must be prepared, capable, and equipped with the right tools to handle a report of sexual harassment. This can be achieved through proper training and resources such as:
- development of an Immediate Response Plan
- being trauma informed
Immediate Response Plan An Immediate Response Plan (IRP) is a guideline for first responders. It provides a structured approach to assessing the nature of the situation and determining the necessary immediate support and intervention required to address any immediate or ongoing physical and psychological safety concerns.
An IRP generally covers:
- assessing immediate safety concerns and risks
- consideration of any necessary workplace adjustments
- understanding the victim's desired level of confidentiality
- determining measures necessary to eliminate or reduce the risks
- confirmation of safety measures implemented and review dates
- agreed safety and wellbeing check-in dates with the victim
- a record of actions that have been taken and need to be taken
Once immediate risks have been identified and neutralised through the IRP, victims are more likely to enter what is called a safe ‘holding space’ where they can safely:
- process the situation and their emotions;
- access the support resources they need (e.g., EAP, family/friend, legal advice, police etc);
- genuinely contemplate the reporting options available to them;
- raise questions and concerns in confidence; and
- decide how they would like to proceed.
An IRP should not be treated as a permanent resolution process, but an immediate and temporary response to remove or minimise the safety risks raised. A more permanent or longer-term solution should be determined once the matter has been finalised. An example IRP can be downloaded on this page.
Workers that have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment are likely to be suffering some level of trauma from their experience. This trauma can affect the way that a person recalls or explains their experiences. The response that a victim receives while recalling an experience can also cause re-traumatisation.
Those who are responsible for handling reports of sexual harassment and investigations should be trained to adopt a trauma-informed approach. By understanding trauma and the effects it can have on a person, responders and investigators are better able to obtain essential information without causing unnecessary stress or re-traumatising.
Support for people after a matter has been finalised
Regardless of the outcome of an investigation or other resolution approach, the victim as well as other parties involved, may require ongoing support, or permanent changes made to support them to continue to work safely after the matter has been resolved and closed. The nature of ongoing support will vary for every situation. Some examples include:
- Continuation of the safety and wellbeing support that was provided during the process
- Additional EAP sessions
- Restorative actions for the people impacted to help them move forward (particularly where the perpetrator remains employed)
Restorative actions are typically relationship focused and can be used to reintegrate the parties together to re-establish respectful working relationships, reaffirm trust among the parties and organisations or help individuals to process and alleviate the impact of the sexual harassment and any disruption caused by the resolution process itself. Examples include:
- Mediation or a facilitated conversation between the two parties to enable discussion around the future of their working relationship and the agreement of ground rules moving forward
- Behavioural coaching for the respondent
- Restorative forums, to rebuild trust and help employees resume normal working relationships.
For every case, after the matter has been concluded, it is important to schedule follow-up check-ins with the victim (and any other impacted people, if appropriate) to ensure they are being effectively supported and to review the effectiveness of the approach adopted and measures implemented in the matter.
It is also important to be clear, open and transparent about the support your workers will be provided. You can do this through your policy and other formal mechanisms, and through your communications with individuals involved in a matter. This will not only support individual victims, but it will help promote a culture where people feel supported and safe to speak up and raise concerns.
Having a broad range of internal and external support options that prioritises victims’ health and safety will help to build trust and reduce barriers to reporting. These barriers and how to overcome them are outlined in the section on reporting.