Hardware chain Bunnings has taken action against sexist behaviour towards its employees in at least one Melbourne store.
A female Bunnings employee has told 774 ABC Melbourne she complained to management at the store about sexual harassment she said she was subject to from tradesmen shopping at the store.
According to ABC, the employee was fearful she her employment would be terminated because she complained, but was “delighted” when management chose to stand by its employees.
The offending customers have reportedly been told to stop the behaviour and in some cases have been banned from visiting the store.
It is unclear whether this is a policy that applies nationally or is only enforced in some Bunnings stores.
Elizabeth Aitken, employment, industrial relations and workplace safety associate at TressCox Lawyers, told SmartCompany this morning that employees have strong protections against sexual harassment under both state and federal laws.
“Employers across Australia hold obligations to protect their employees – and contractors – from sexual harassment by other staff members as well from customers, clients and other people they may come into contact with in the course of providing services,” she says.
Aitken says failing to protect against the risk of harassment occurring might expose employers to a legal claim.
“Recent case law shows that courts are willing to make increasingly large awards of compensation against employers for failure to appropriately protect workers from sexual harassment,” she says.
The best advice for SMEs, says Aitken, is to minimise risk of claims by giving all allegations serious consideration and taking care to ensure workers are not affected by making the complaint.
Having a policy prohibiting sexual harassment is also valuable for SMEs, Aitken says.
“Bunnings’ swift response to the allegations of sexual harassment would provide an important defence in any claim of vicarious liability for the actions of its customers,” Aitken says.
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins told the ABC the move is not that surprising and employers have a legal obligation to protect their employees.
“I still think this issue of everyday sexism, and whether you stand up to it, is really polarising,” she said.
Ms Jenkins said research shows ignoring everyday sexism can create a climate that tolerates more serious abuses.
“The little stuff does add up to big stuff,” she said.
SmartCompany contacted Bunnings, however, the company was unable to provide further information and declined to comment.