Legal bodies pair up to address sexual harassment in law
The Victorian Legal Services Board and the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner have embarked on a joint initiative to examine appropriate organisational responses to, and the prevention of, sexual harassment in the business of law.
The joint initiative will include a statewide survey to quantify sexual harassment affecting the legal profession, the development of guidance for legal professionals on the proper drafting and use of non-disclosure agreements, and efforts to build partnerships with WorkSafe Victoria, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and other authorities to ensure sexual harassment is dealt with at both the individual and organisational level.
“Sexual harassment of any kind is unacceptable” was the statement made by the Victorian Legal Services Board and the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner in making their announcement about the partnership.
“For lawyers, it is also conduct that is capable of constituting professional misconduct,” it continued.
The legal services board and commissioner added that they “are also making a commitment to ensuring we are engaged with, and embodying, best practice complaints management”.
“As leaders in the profession, we are dedicated to ensuring our staff are safe, supported and empowered to call out any problematic behaviour, and to report any sexual harassment with full confidence it will be managed with integrity and conscientiousness,” they said
Both bodies suspect that sexual harassment in the legal profession is under reported, so explained that they will be seeking to quantify the issue.
“We want to be clear that we expect the principals of law practices to tell us directly if their practice has a problem with sexual harassment and the steps they are taking to address that problem,” it continued.
The legal services board and commissioner noted their intention is to contribute to broader discussions about appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and what expectations are of the legal profession.
“The kind of behaviour we tolerate in our organisations ultimately reflects on us as members of the legal profession,” it read.
“As leaders, we expect other leaders in the profession to stand with us to call out inappropriate behaviour and ensure that all employees have a safe environment, with equal opportunities to succeed in their careers.”
The legal profession, as a fundamental pillar of the Victorian justice system, cannot be quiet in addressing this kind of conduct, the statement read.
The Victorian Bar and the Law Institute of Victoria have both welcomed the move, with the presidents of both organisations voicing their support for the initiative.
“If even one person has experienced sexual harassment, that is one too many,” Victorian Bar president Dr Matt Collins QC said.
“Sexual harassment is never acceptable in any workplace and certainly not at the Victorian Bar.”
His comments follow the Victorian Bar’s October 2018 ‘concerning’ survey results which revealed that one in six women and 2 per cent of men reported experiencing sexual harassment in the previous 12 months.
“The Victorian Bar is committed to providing an environment where barristers, and those who come into contact with them, can conduct themselves free from sexual harassment,” Dr Collins expressed.
He said the organisation looks forward to working with the Victorian Legal Services Board and the Victorian Legal Services Commission to improve the work environments of all those in the legal profession.
For LIV president Stuart Webb, the “experience suggests that the legal profession is not immune from sexual harassment”.
“We stand side by side with the regulator to identify the problem, call it out and act on any complaints,” he continued.
“The LIV will encourage law firms to develop and implement enforceable policies to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace and we are encouraged that many firms have done so already.”