Lessons from Country Road’s Sexual Harassment Probe

Today, we’re diving into a hot topic that affects workplaces everywhere: handling internal complaints of serious nature. Recently, the Country Road Group found themselves in the spotlight after launching an investigation into the mishandling of staff complaints regarding these issues. Let’s unpack what’s going on and see what lessons we can learn from it.

Country Road Group, a prominent name in the retail business, is facing heat due to allegations of mismanagement of staff complaints. These complaints were made in October 2023 from multiple male and female staff members, and pertain to sexual harassment, bullying and racism.

The allegations include reports of repeated harassment of staff members including unsolicited touching and kissing by former senior executive, Rachid Maliki. After the allegations were lodged with the Country Road Group, Maliki resigned from his position. (Source: Star Observer)

Maliki previously worked as a general manager at RM Williams, where it’s alleged from multiple sources that Maliki faced similar claims during his tenure there. “R.M. Williams staff were relieved when the company was sold and Maliki departed. The bullying was relentless.” (Source: Simon Peters)

At a base level, this situation underscores the vital importance of nurturing a workplace environment that prioritises safety and respect for all. An organisation’s people are its eyes and ears, so when voices speak up, it’s a sign that it’s time to listen, and then take appropriate action.

Let’s break down what this means for employers. In Australia, there are clear laws and regulations governing sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers have a positive duty to ensure their workplaces are free from this kind of behaviour.

How can this be done effectively? One might ask.

Here are five tips and reminders to help employers meet their obligations under Australian law:

  1. Clear Policies and Procedures: Having robust policies and procedures in place is essential (and kind of a given). These documents should clearly outline what constitutes unacceptable behaviour, how to report it, and the steps the company will take to address complaints. Make sure your employees know where to find these documents and encourage them to review them regularly. What’s on paper is no good if they are not being referenced and practically applied.
  2. Training and Education: Education is key! Ensure employees at all levels, from leaders to frontline staff, receive regular training on issues like sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination. This training should not only cover what these behaviours look like, but also emphasise the importance of creating an inclusive and respectful workplace culture, one where everyone’s voice has the power to contribute to positive change.
  3. Open Communication Channels: Encourage open communication between employees and management. Make it easy for employees to report any concerns they may have, whether it’s through a dedicated hotline, an anonymous reporting system, or regular check-ins with a team leader or member of HR. Remember, transparency builds trust.
  4. Fair and Timely Investigations: When complaints arise, take them seriously and act promptly. Conduct thorough and impartial investigations, respecting the confidentiality of all parties involved. Ensure that employees feel supported throughout the process and that appropriate actions are taken based on the investigation’s findings.
  5. Accountability and Follow-Up: Hold perpetrators of harassment, bullying, or discrimination accountable for their actions. Implement disciplinary measures when necessary and follow up with affected employees to ensure they feel supported and safe moving forward. Additionally, use the findings from investigations to identify any systemic issues within the organisation and take proactive steps to address them. It could be a great opportunity to offer training to employees and managers in real time – relevance and timeliness can be very conducive to effective learning and growth.

Simply put, treating people like actual humans also helps a great deal in fostering a sense of connection and mutuality. We mostly lead jam-packed lives outside of work – tending to family, socialising with friends, engaging in hobbies… sometimes it is forgotten amidst the sea of organisational processing and checking of boxes, that all we really need is for someone to genuinely care.

Employers have a great deal of influence and responsibility in this space, to ensure they are on the front foot of employee safety, wellbeing and satisfaction. After all, people are the crux of an organisation… if they are treated like crutches, what is keeping them from looking elsewhere for greener pastures?

To bring it all in, the recent probe into Country Road Group serves as a wake-up call for employers everywhere. It highlights the importance of taking proactive measures to address issues of sexual harassment, bullying, and racism in the workplace, and to not wait until the building is on fire before learning about fire safety.

Let us learn from this and strive to nurture environments where every employee feels empowered and respected.

If you have any specific questions or if we can help you develop or amend your internal documents to support your workplace in any way, please reach out to us. We very much believe in fire safety before fire fighting (although we are here for it all!)


Star Observer: https://www.starobserver.com.au/news/country-road-sexual-assault-allegations/231177

News.com.au: Country Road investigates alleged staff harassment

10 News First: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rzvq4H0OYHo

Related Articles

Changes to the Fair Work Act prohibiting workplace sexual harassment – laws in effect from 6 March 2023 | HR Gurus


What is Workplace Harassment and Sexual Harassment? | HR Gurus

Written by Yen Le

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