Employers can be held legally responsible for acts of discrimination or harassment that occur in the workplace or in connection with a person’s employment. This is known as ‘vicarious liability.’
For example, employers can be held vicariously liable for discrimination and harassment that occurs at:
- employer-sponsored events, such as seminars, conferences and training workshops
- work-related social functions, such as Christmas parties
- business or field trips.
Example: An employee was sexually harassed by another employee in the early hours of the morning in a serviced apartment they were sharing while attending a work related conference. The employer was held to be legally responsible for the sexual harassment.
Employers can also be liable when computers, phones or tablets are used to harass a person, for example, by sending text messages, posting on social media sites or sending emails that have a connection to the workplace.
Employers can minimise their liability by demonstrating they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent or avoid the discrimination or harassment.
Preventive measures can include implementing workplace policies that address discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, providing training on discrimination and harassment to staff and managers, and establishing an internal complaint handling process.