Prevention of Sexual Harassment - Policy

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1. Purpose and Objectives

1.1 The University of Queensland is committed to ensuring that the work and study environment for all University employees and students is free from sexual harassment.

1.2 The purpose of this policy is to

(a) define what constitutes sexual harassment;

(b) outline measures to prevent sexual harassment; and

(c) provide links to the staff and student grievance resolution policies and procedures, for the resolution of sexual harassment complaints.

1.3 Sexual harassment is also unlawful under state and federal legislation.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

2. The University has adopted the following definition of sexual harassment [See Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld)]:

2.1 Sexual harassment happens if a person:

(a) subjects another person to an unsolicited act of physical intimacy; or
(b) makes an unsolicited demand or request (whether directly or by implication) for sexual favours from the other person; or
(c) makes a remark with sexual connotations relating to the other person; or
(d) engages in any other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the other person;


the person engaging in the conduct described in (a), (b), (c) or (d) does so–
(e) with the intention of offending, humiliating or intimidating the other person; or
(f) in circumstances where a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by the conduct.

2.1.1 Examples of sexual harassment - The following actions may constitute sexual harassment. (Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and other actions or activities may also constitute sexual harassment).

  • Physical contact such as patting, pinching or touching in a sexual way;
  • Unnecessary familiarity such as deliberately brushing against a person;
  • Sexual propositions;
  • Unwelcome and uncalled for remarks or insinuations about a person's sex or private life;
  • Suggestive comments about a person's appearance or body;
  • Sexually offensive phone calls;
  • Unwanted sexual attention using internet, social networking sites and mobile phones;
  • Indecent exposure;
  • A publication such as sexually offensive emails or graphics;
  • Sexually offensive screensavers or posters.

2.2 Sexual harassment may also occur where, during a situation that relates to their role with The University, a University employee or student engages in sexually harassing behaviour outside of the University toward another person.

2.3 The University also treats as sexual harassment the creation of an environment that is ‘hostile’ to a person in a sexual context. Some of the factors that may indicate a potentially hostile environment include the display of obscene or pornographic materials, general sexual banter crude conversation or innuendo and jokes of a sexual nature.

2.4 Sexual harassment is unlawful when it falls within the relevant statutory definition under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) and/or the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

2.5 Vicarious liability - an employer or organisation can be liable for discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification done by their employees or agents because employers are obliged by law to protect staff and 'clients' (for example students) from this behaviour. Complaints can therefore be made against individuals, workers, employers and organisations. A defence to vicarious liability is if it can be shown that all reasonable steps were taken to prevent discrimination, sexual harassment or vilification (adapted from Employers' Toolkit: Resources for building an inclusive workplace, ADCQ, 2013).

3. Policy Scope/Coverage

3.1 This policy applies to all University of Queensland staff and students.

3.2 This policy does not cover UQ employees or students who experience sexual harassment from a non-UQ staff member or student when:

·   working or studying with or at a non-University controlled entity; or
·   undertaking a secondment at a non-University controlled entity; or
·   undertaking any projects or studies at a facility which is a non-University controlled entity; or

3.3 Where sexual harassment occurs at a non-University controlled work-site or is instigated by a non-University student or employee, the University will work closely with the controlling entity to ensure that the complaint is managed in accordance with the controlling entity’s policies and procedures.

3.4 This policy may cover situations where the UQ staff member or student is the subject of allegations in situations that occur at a facility that is a non-University controlled entity and where the circumstances are related to their role with The University. The University may be vicariously liable for this behaviour even though it did not occur on University premises.

3.5 Nothing in this policy prevents a complaint of sexual harassment from being dealt with by an appropriate authority including but not limited to the police or the Ombudsman.

3.6 Sexual harassment does not generally arise in consensual relationships. Consensual relationships or relationships of mutual attraction between people are based on genuine choice and consent. However, in situations of unequal power and authority (as in relationships between academic supervisors and students) there is often a danger that apparent 'consent' might be based on intimidation or fear. For example, a student or employee may 'consent' to advances out of fear of an academic or employment penalty. If it can be shown that fear or intimidation is present in an otherwise consensual relationship, then sexual harassment may become an issue.

3.7 University officers have a responsibility to foster an environment of trust and respect as the basis of appropriate professional relationships. In all circumstances where a personal relationship develops between staff or staff and students, reference should be made to the University policy on Personal Relationships in the Workplace.

4. Policy Statement

4.1 The University of Queensland is committed to ensuring that the work and study environment for all University employees and students is free from sexual harassment.

4.2 Sexual harassment will not be tolerated under any circumstances and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken against any staff member or student who engages in such action. Issues of vicarious liability may arise from a failure to act in relation to a complaint of sexual harassment.

5. Preventing Sexual Harassment

5.1 All staff and students are responsible for maintaining an environment free from sexual harassment.

5.2 Supervisors and managers should take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from arising (see Prevention of Sexual Harassment - Guidelines).

6. Resolving Sexual Harassment

6.1 Resolution of complaints of sexual harassment will take place through either the Student Grievance Resolution process or the Staff Grievance Resolution procedures as appropriate.

6.2 Grievance procedures detailed in conjunction with this policy do not pre-empt, limit or delay the parties' rights to pursue other avenues for resolution of grievances where applicable such as direct application to the Fair Work Commission, the Australian Human Rights Commission or the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission. Some external agencies may require internal procedures to be used in the first instance. Where alternative external avenues are chosen, the student or staff member will, however, no longer have access to the University grievance procedures.

6.3 Subject to requirements relating to meeting the University’s duty of care to a student or staff member, all parties will maintain appropriate confidentiality throughout the entire grievance resolution process.

6.4 Additional information for managers and supervisors related to sexual harassment can be found in the Prevention of Sexual Harassment - Guidelines.

7. Seeking Information about Sexual Harassment

7.1 The University has designated a number of Discrimination and Harassment Contact Officers (DHCOs) across the University who can provide a first point of contact for anyone seeking information about sexual harassment issues. The role of a DHCO is to provide information about University policies, procedures, where to access support and advice; and to encourage parties involved to generate options toward resolution at the lowest possible level. A DHCO does not have a role to “support” any party in a grievance, nor to advise, adjudicate, advocate, mediate or conciliate. Advice on sexual harassment policies and procedures may be obtained from a variety of other sources including Workplace Diversity and Inclusion, Human Resources, and from appropriate external agencies. Staff and students may consult and receive support from their union.

8. Exemplars on Managing Sexual Harassment Grievances

8.1 This policy should be read in conjunction with Prevention of Sexual Harassment - Guidelines, which contains exemplars that provide all staff members and in particular supervisors with case studies of good practice in the management of sexual harassment issues.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Dunne


Prevention of Sexual Harassment - Guidelines

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1. Purpose and Objectives

This guideline is intended to assist staff, students and supervisors to

  • understand and implement the principles of good practice in relation to complaints of sexual harassment; and
  • demonstrate how a complaint of sexual harassment might be resolved using good practice principles.

This guideline supports the University’s Prevention of Sexual Harassment policy.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

DHCO – Discrimination and Harassment Contact Officer

Enterprise AgreementThe University of Queensland Enterprise Agreement 2014 - 2017

3. Guidelines Scope/Coverage

This guideline applies to all staff and students of The University of Queensland.

4. Guidelines Statement

The University treats complaints of sexual harassment seriously and the University is committed to ensuring that the work and study environment for all University staff and students is free from sexual harassment. This guideline uses exemplars to demonstrate how a complaint of sexual harassment could be resolved.

Each grievance will have its own complexities and therefore needs to be handled individually in accordance with the relevant University policies.

The exemplars in this guideline are fictional, although they reflect closely the type of incidents that can occur.

5. Prevention of Sexual Harassment: Taking All Reasonable Steps

Managers and supervisors are required to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • ensuring all new employees complete the staff induction training modules, including EO Online;
  • ensuring all employees have completed staff development training on the prevention of sexual harassment;
  • making all students aware of UQ's policy on prevention of sexual harassment;
  • discussing the University's Prevention of Sexual Harassment policy at staff meetings and checking for understanding;
  • modelling appropriate behaviour;
  • monitoring workplace behaviours to ensure compliance with policies;
  • ensuring all employees are aware of the Code of Conduct;
  • ensuring students are aware of the Student Charter;
  • making staff and students aware of the Internet Code of Practice;
  • removing any sexually inappropriate material from the work or study environment; and
  • supporting the work of Discrimination and Harassment Contact Officers.

Supervisors should seek advice from Employee Relations and/or Workplace Diversity and Inclusion within Human Resources or Human Resources staff if they receive a complaint about sexual harassment.

6. Good Practice Principles for Grievance Resolution

Good practice principles in the resolution of grievances include, but are not limited to:

  • taking all allegations seriously and responding within a reasonable timeframe;
  • applying the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness* when dealing with all parties to the complaint;
  • maintaining confidentiality for all parties to the complaint;
  • providing for early resolution and where possible, at the lowest organisational level;
  • ensuring people are not victimised for having made a complaint;
  • ensuring all parties are aware of the availability of free staff and student counselling;
  • (for staff managing a grievance resolution process) seeking assistance and/or advice from Human Resources staff, Employee Relations staff or Workplace Diversity and Inclusion.

*The UQ Staff Grievance Resolution Policy states that the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness require:

  • Any person who is the subject of a grievance must be informed of all the allegations in relation to their behaviour;
  • People must have a full opportunity to put their case;
  • All parties to the complaint must have the right to be heard;
  • All relevant submissions and evidence must be considered;
  • Irrelevant matters must not be taken into account; and
  • The decision maker must be impartial and fair in their dealings with the parties.

7. Exemplars on Managing Sexual Harassment Grievances

7.1 Example 1: Inappropriate email

7.1.1 Situation

A staff member mentions to her supervisor that a colleague is forwarding smutty jokes to other staff. The staff member provides copies of some of the jokes to the supervisor. The jokes appear to be mild, however they are clearly of a sexual nature.

7.1.2 Relevant policies

  • Prevention of Sexual Harassment
  • Internet Code of Practice
  • Code of Conduct
  • Staff Grievance Resolution

7.1.3 Supervisor action

The supervisor advises the staff member that they should let their colleague know that they don't want to receive emails of this nature.

The supervisor also requests a meeting with the person who is alleged to have sent the emails.

At the meeting the supervisor states that he has been made aware of emails of a sexual nature coming from her email address. The supervisor asks the employee whether she has sent emails of this nature. The employee admitted to sending the emails, but didn’t think it would be a problem as they were sent to those she considered friends at UQ.

The supervisor points out that sending material of this nature via a work email, and in work time, is a breach of a number of University policies and legislation and is unacceptable. The supervisor provides copies of the policies and discusses them with the staff member to ensure she understands the content and what the University’s expectations are in relation to behaviour. The supervisor advises the staff member that the matter will not go any further, however any repeat of this behaviour may constitute Misconduct or Serious Misconduct in accordance with the Enterprise Agreement. Following the meeting the supervisor sends the staff member a letter outlining what they discussed in relation to University policy and expected workplace behaviours and makes a diary note that he has spoken with the staff member about this issue.

The supervisor also asks a UQ DHCO who works in the area to put up posters and restock brochures in the staff room about Discrimination and Harassment and Sexual Harassment and provide a brief awareness-raising session at the next staff meeting, with the supervisor. All staff are reminded to complete EO Online, the online equity and diversity training accessible through the Workplace Diversity and Inclusion website.

The supervisor subsequently checks that all staff have completed EO Online.

7.2 Example 2: PhD supervision

7.2.1 Situation

A PhD student makes an appointment to see the Head of School. She states she has been experiencing unwanted sexual attention, including physical contact, from her PhD supervisor. She feels very distressed and no longer wants him to be her supervisor, however he is the leading authority on her topic, and she doesn’t want to jeopardise her PhD studies.

7.2.2 Relevant policies

  • Prevention of Sexual Harassment
  • Code of Conduct
  • Student Grievance Resolution

7.2.3 Supervisor action

The Head reassures the student that sexual harassment is taken very seriously by the University, and that all steps necessary would be taken to ensure continuity of her studies, including assistance in finding another suitable PhD supervisor, regardless of the outcome of the grievance. The Head provides the student with information on relevant University policies, existence of support services (for example Student Services counselling and the UQ Union - UQU) at the University and the importance of maintaining confidentiality.

The Head of School asks the student to write down the allegations and provide them to her, outlining the facts of the case as the student sees it. After seeing the allegations, the Head forms the view that it would not be appropriate to encourage a low level resolution (such as the student approaching the PhD supervisor to resolve the matter themselves).

The student is informed that to observe the principles of natural justice, the Head will present the allegations to the alleged harasser so that he is able to respond to the claims. The Head of School assures the student that victimisation is treated seriously by the University, and that all parties in the case will be reminded of this.

The Head of School subsequently meets with the PhD supervisor and outlines the allegations to him verbally and in writing. At the meeting he denies the allegations, saying the interactions with her were consensual.

Given the two differing versions of events and the seriousness of the claims, the Head of School makes the judgement that an investigation will be required. The Head of School consults with Employee Relations (Human Resources) to discuss the possibility of instigating the Misconduct/Serious Misconduct processes in accordance with the Enterprise Agreement.

7.3 Example 3: Failed student friendship

7.3.1 Situation

A student sees a DHCO. She has had a falling out with a male friend of hers, another UQ student. She claims that he has started to harass her, saying things in tutorials for her to overhear and she thinks he wrote something of sexual nature on her textbook while she was away from her desk. She is finding it difficult to concentrate in the classes they share. The DHCO goes through the Student Grievance Resolution policy and options for resolution with her and discusses the availability of counselling. The student decides that she will approach the Course Coordinator to try to resolve the situation.

7.3.2 Relevant policies

  • Student Charter
  • Student Grievance Resolution
  • Prevention of Sexual Harassment

7.3.3 Supervisor action

The student outlines her concerns to the Course Coordinator. The Coordinator asks her to write down the allegations. The Course Coordinator contacts the other student, outlining the allegations, stating that in accordance with the principles of natural justice, he will be provided an opportunity to respond to the allegations. The Coordinator outlines key aspects of UQ’s policies including the Student Charter, Student Grievance Resolution policy and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment policy.

The Course Coordinator decides that in reaching an informal resolution to the grievance, the best approach may be through mediation. Both students agree to this.

At the end of the mediation session a written agreement is reached as to how they will both behave towards each other in the future. This agreement is signed and copies made for the students and the Course Coordinator.

The Course Coordinator subsequently contacts both students to see whether the agreement is being upheld and to remind them about victimisation and the availability of counselling, should they require it.

7.4 Example 4: Conference dinner

7.4.1 Situation

A staff member (the complainant) writes a letter of complaint to her supervisor (Head of School) stating that at a recent conference dinner another staff member (the respondent) brushed up against her in a sexually inappropriate manner and that this has caused her distress. In accordance with step one of the Staff Grievance Resolution policy, the complainant raised the issue with the respondent by sending them an email stating that their behaviour was inappropriate and made them feel very uncomfortable. The complainant received a short and aggressive response from the respondent and is not satisfied that their grievance has been resolved. The staff member would now like to progress the matter to step 2 of the Staff Grievance Resolution policy.

7.4.2 Relevant policies

  • Prevention of Sexual Harassment
  • Staff Grievance Resolution
  • Code of Conduct

7.4.3 Supervisor action

The supervisor decides to investigate the complaint and interviews the complainant, the respondent and witnesses named in the complaint.

At the conclusion of the investigation, having considered the facts of the case, the Head of School finds that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation(s) of sexual harassment. The Head of School recommends that complainant and respondent participate in mediation, so that they may come to an agreement on a working relationship for the future. The finding and recommendations are communicated in writing to the claimant and the respondent.

Both parties agree to mediation and arrive at an agreement about how they will work together in the future.

The Head of School writes to the complainant, outlining the actions that have been taken to resolve their grievance and confirms that matter has been resolved at step 2 of the Staff Grievance Resolution policy.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Dunne
Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Dunne