Allegations made against French economist Dominique Strauss-Kahn should serve as a reminder for employers to initiate damage control in the event of a sexual harassment claim, according to a leading employment lawyer.
Andrew Douglas, principal at Macpherson + Kelley Lawyers, says if an employee makes allegations of sexual harassment against another employee, employers must ensure they act accordingly.
“Once an allegation is made, it can be incredibly damaging, particularly once it is made public. In the workplace, there is a whole series of damage control [that employers can initiate],” Douglas says.
His comments followed the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who heads the International Monetary Fund, over an alleged sex attack upon a New York hotel maid, who reportedly suffered minor injuries as a result of the incident.
Strauss-Kahn was hauled off a Paris-bound flight at a New York airport and taken to the special victims unit at the New York Police Department.
Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer said his client has denied the victim’s accusations and will plead not guilty to the charges.
While the IMF has declined to comment on the case, spokeswoman Caroline Atkinson said in a statement the IMF “remains fully functioning and operational”.
In addition to his position as head of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn is a leader of the Socialist Party in France, and was tipped to run for presidency in the 2012 election.
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According to Douglas, the high profile case will add to the number of complaints made by workers of a lower status, although he is seeing a general increase in reports of this nature.
Douglas says sexual harassment claims aren’t prevalent in a particular business demographic, but believes more people are beginning to understand that they don’t have to tolerate bad behaviour.
He says employers can introduce confidentiality clauses so that, in the event of a sexual harassment claim, employees are prohibited from speaking about it.
“Allegations of sexual harassment can destroy peoples’ lives. There is a real need for the composition of confidentiality and immediate intervention [measures],” he says.
“Small organisations desperately need a ‘red button person’ so that employees have a reference point for any complaints they may have.”
“If employees have to voice those concerns internally, they may feel there’s a spot on their forehead forever… You need a contact person to act as an external resource in this regard.”
Meanwhile, the staff and customers of Australian fashion retailer General Pants – which recently came under fire for the highly sexual nature of its latest campaign – have been invited to lodge sexual harassment complaints with the Anti-Discrimination Board.
The board’s president Stepan Kerkyasharian said: “To display material that is sexually explicit or sexually suggestive in the workplace could be in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act.”
“There have been displays of photographic nudity, which have been found to be offensive and in breach of the Act. If anyone felt offended by that, they could lodge a complaint.”