Yep, it’s the most depressing time of year, the day we start back at work, aka Blue Monday if we want even more US culture. So let’s spare a thought for the folks who will truly struggle when they return to the coalface for 2024: human resources staff.
I almost feel sorry for them, the folks who work in HR, people and culture, or whatever fancy title they think up to pretend to be something they’re not. Employees may assume HR will help, but their real purpose is to protect those who pay their wages.
Truly, I would not normally sympathise with HR in any workplace. HR types all over the place have, in the past, protected sexual harassers and bullies. They have, in the past, backed bosses who protected sexual harassers or who were sexual harassers themselves.
My all-time favourite was an HR staffer who argued that the person at her workplace bullying an entire department could not possibly be a bully “because that’s what happened in her last job, and she knows not to do it again”. It was not just in her last job, but the one before that and the one before that. Actually nah, my all-time – all-time – favourite was a person in HR elsewhere telling me that a senior staff member with an erection pressing into the buttocks of a copy kid at the photocopier did that by accident. Honestly, don’t we all press into people when we pass the photocopier.
Anyhow, this year, the working lives of those in HR will be very different and not in a good way. What? Worse than trying to resolve work-from-home conflicts between bosses who demand presenteeism and workers who need flexibility? Much worse.
Two reasons: the regulation and enforcement of the Positive Duty – the legal obligation for employers to take “reasonable and proportionate measures” to eliminate, among other things, sexual harassment at work, sex-based harassment and sex-related acts of victimisation or risk; plus companies with more than 100 employees being forced to release gender pay gap data next month.
Coming soon, tea will be spilled in workplaces across the nation and no-one’s ready for it. Tea and tears. A nation which has done an appalling job of protecting women at work – and of paying them fairly – is about to hear what’s real and what’s not. And the woman who runs the Australian HR Institute is not all that confident companies are ready.
Let’s face it. Why would the government introduce a positive duty to make workplaces safe from sexual harassment unless companies had utterly failed themselves? Or as Sarah McCann-Bartlett, CEO of HR’s peak body says, governments only regulate after the markets fail. And the epidemic of sexual harassment at work is one helluva market failure.
Meanwhile, the folks at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency are (kinda) ready for the most controversial data it has ever published: the gender pay gap, workplace by workplace. It’s already been inundated with requests for help with “employer statements”. That’s where employers try to excuse their massive gender pay gaps. I am so looking forward to the conversations generated by these numbers. I love nothing more than making trouble. Or at least eavesdropping on trouble.
Rae Cooper, professor in the University of Sydney’s business school, is highly sceptical about the possibility workplace war will break out.
“The WGEA data won’t pit Jill against Bill,” she says. Hot damn. “A cold hard look at the data should allow us to see if our remuneration systems are working fairly and efficiently. If the data says this is not the case, it will build pressure for change.”
Even the folks at the Australian Human Rights Commission have received multiple inquiries about the new “positive duty” requirements during what is traditionally a quiet time of year.
Here’s trouble at its core. As McCann-Bartlett told me, these huge changes to the Australian workplace have the same drivers: organisational cultures that don’t support sex-based safety and equity; leadership failings; and a lack of transparency and reporting.
“As a whole, organisations in Australia were not making the positive changes in these areas that they should have. And so the government legislated,” McCann-Bartlett said.
Here’s what’s in the future for Australian workplaces. Fay Calderone, workplace relations partner at Hall & Wilcox, tells me her workload has doubled. She’s seeing a hugely increased appetite for advice on how to oust perpetrators.
Companies are seeking advice where allegations have been substantiated. I reckon in the past companies just used to hope it (meaning the victim) would just go away. Now, she says, they are also seeking advice where there is insufficient evidence but deep concerns about reputation risks and regulator involvement.
“Media and reputation issues are now a much bigger catalyst and regulation is playing catch-up. The appetite to act increased as the enforcement date approached,” she says.
Unfortunately, paying women less for the same work is not as easy to police. There are always a thousand excuses. But at least we will soon see what’s what. I’m also looking forward to seeing so many sexual harassment perps sacked. Let’s see how that works out for them.
Jenna Price is a regular columnist.
Source: Thanks smh.com