As we are coming into Summer and the holiday period, organisations are having their Christmas and social functions, and colleagues may be catching up after work for a few drinks. ‘Tis the season to be jolly…But is it also the season of sexual harassment?

A recent report came out this year showing that 30% of workers have experienced sexual harassment in the past five years (Human Rights Commission). The Human Rights Act 1993 defines sexual harassment as ‘any unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that is repeated or is serious enough to have a harmful effect. The law defines sexual harassment to include many different behaviours.

Sexual Harassment in Summer

Sexual harassment seems to be particularly prevalent in Summer and several factors have been suggested as causing seasonal victimization. This includes holidays, change in attire, weather change, and the increase in daylight hours. Sunshine increases serotonin levels, which may cause your coworkers to feel somewhat friskier than usual.

Our Senior Associate, Maureen Glassey, comments on the seasonality of crime and sexual harassment from her experience as a former investigator in the Police.

She states that most cops will tell you that crime is both situational and seasonal – night shifts with a full moon always seem busier and in summer, the incidents of sexual offending seem to peak. “Moving away from policing and into employment relations, I notice that there seems to be a similar trend with harassment cases. Maybe it is the longer days, warmer weather, or perhaps the increase in social events. It is not always related to the weather, but perhaps the fact that that summer collides with the end of the year, the ‘zero-tolerance’ of these behaviours is reduced and people start to get away with more because it has been a long, hard year.” Thus, not only do behaviours in the workplace start to slip, but these behaviours also make appearances during work functions.

Sexual Harassment in Work-Functions

Noting the spike in harassment during this season in particular, it is important for employers to remember that their duty of care and obligations to provide a safe and healthy environment extend to work-related events and functions.

In preparation for work-related events and functions, employers should be taking the time to evaluate the risks involved and communicate behavioural expectations to staff prior to the function taking place. They should also consider any pre-existing policies and whether they are applicable in the instance that any incidents occur during the function.

Addressing and/or acting on these issues requires robust policies and processes. Now is a great time to either update or implement policies for such events outlining standards of behaviour, especially around health & safety, bullying & harassment, and drugs and alcohol at work.

While sexual harassment cases often occur, especially around this time of the year, employees are less likely to raise a complaint, or even identify the scenario as sexual harassment, where there is a high prevalence – a culture that fosters these kinds of behaviours, deeming it ‘normal’. It may also be an underlying culture within the organisation that the employer is not aware of.

Sexual Harassment and Culture

Employers must be mindful of their wider culture and make appropriate assessment as to whether their organisation has the systems and protections in place that allow employees to feel safe to report harassment and for it to be investigated.

This means having in place robust policies, but also ensuring the organisation has active processes and practices that are supported from the top down, which will help employees to view them as effective and feel more comfortable in speaking up. Propensity to name is typically higher when employees perceive that their HR department supports a climate of naming.

For most harassment and bullying allegations however, a complaints process and pathway for responding to these allegations is not enough. It usually places the burden on the victim to come forward and as mentioned above, people are unlikely to do so where a prevalence of sexual harassment within the culture exists. Many workers have said they wanted better support, preferably from someone independent looking into workplace culture and policies.

At Three60 Consult, we conduct independent investigations and pulse checks to help identify where any issues lie and provide tailored recommendations. We can also create or review policies and processes. If this is something your organisation needs assistance with, get in touch with one of our associates today.


By Kayla Neems