Just like their larger counterparts, small businesses are not immune from the laws prohibiting workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. Even though they lack a dedicated Human Resources department or stringent reporting requirements, small businesses are also under a duty to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination from occurring in their workplace.
Small businesses may be particularly susceptible to workplace sexual harassment in the absence of strict regulation and reporting requirements. Additionally, the nature of a small business entails more informal personal interactions, in which inappropriate conduct may go unnoticed or be swept under the carpet.
Business owners also have a significant part to play in whether sexual harassment occurs in their workplace, as they wield a significant influence over employees in influencing workplace culture. If the boss signals that sexually harassing behaviour is acceptable, this sends a message to other employees that similar behaviour is acceptable on their part. Conversely, if the boss strictly does not tolerate sexual harassment, this sends a message to employees that they should not sexually harass or discriminate other employees, out of fear of being subjected to disciplinary action.
Moreover, employees are in an even more precarious position when their boss is the perpetrator sexually harassing them. It may be difficult to report the sexual harassment because employees may feel that they have no-one to turn to for support, and they may be concerned about losing their job or being subjected to other adverse action if they make a complaint.
Although it is difficult for employees of a small business to report their sexual harassment, it is important for them to remember that they are not alone. Even if it is futile attempting to have the matter addressed by the company itself, employees can still pursue their matter with an external regulatory body, such as the Fair Work Commission, or the Human Rights Commission of their state.
Victims of sexual harassment can also be aided in what may be a daunting process through retaining representation in their matter. By engaging a representative, victims of sexual harassment can complain about the wrongful treatment to which they have been subjected, but through an independent expert that will negotiate the matter with their employer and ensure the matter is handled with all due care, skill and diligence to achieve a rightful outcome.
72% of Australians have reported being sexually harassed on at least one occasion in their lifetime. Small businesses are not exempt from laws prohibiting sexual harassment and discrimination, and all wronged employees have the right to pursue justice for the way they have been treated in the workplace.
 Australian Human Rights Commission, Everyone’s Business: Fourth National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (Report, 2018) 18 (‘Fourth National Survey’); Australian Human Rights Commission, Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (Report, 2020) 85 (‘Respect@Work Report’).