Overseas business trip or sexual harassment episode?

sexual harassment 

To be given the opportunity to work overseas is the ultimate achievement for many senior executives. Although the majority respect their employers trust in them, many do see it as an opportunity to let loose while their employer turns a blind eye to poor conduct.

Australians who believe travelling internationally for work means they can drop their standards to a level that can be tolerated in whatever culture they go to is nonsense, commented Michael Harmer from Harmers Workplace Lawyers.

A former general manager of a company in Malaysia shares her thoughts on Australian workers with the Australian Financial Review. Her comments focus on the severity of Australians behaviour world-wide and suggests we should consider toning it down. “Some Australian executives feel like “rock stars” when they move to Asia, and are more likely to indulge in binge drinking, party drugs and taking clients to brothels than when they are at home.”

The increasing number of senior executives sexually harassing colleagues while overseas is worrying and will not go unpunished. Michael Harmer, prominent sexual harassment lawyer shared his concerns with the AFR, and brought a few examples to light.

In the past 12 months, Harmers Workplace Lawyers have negotiated three major settlements for employees where senior lawyers or accountants sexually harassed colleagues while overseas. The cases costing employers millions. “One settled for over $5 million gross, another for more than $1 million. In one case, an Australian partner at a global legal firm who moved to Asia allegedly used sexual entertainment and prostitutes to enrich client relationships. He was also accused of the deliberate posting of female colleagues to overseas offices so as to facilitate affairs with them, Harmer says.

This case warns organisations that while the sexual harassment behaviour occurred internationally where our Australian laws do not always apply, poor behaviour by Australian employers and their perpetrators can still be penalised. When strong decisions are made and communications are received in Australia, Australian regulations will still apply. Harmer also states that “employees working overseas have the right to sue for failure to provide a safe workplace if there is a sufficient connection with Australia.”

These cases are far from rare, but unfortunately the victims are usually paid out and removed by management, leaving the perpetrator’s career untouched. In some cases, leading them to a promotion to higher leadership roles even after receiving written complaints about them.

Workplaces who continue to turn a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour by not enforcing effective workplace policies or compliance training and who continue to reward and promote perpetrators should expect to experience diminished ability to attract and retain talent. They will also be at high risk of reputation damage.

Do an audit today and organise some workplace behaviour compliance training and policy updates to ensure your staff know their rights and most importantly feel safe and comfortable at work.

Source: Australian Financial Review