Is an organisation responsible if a volunteer sexually harasses a client or another member of staff?

An organisation to which the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) applies can be responsible for sexual harassment against, or by, a volunteer where the volunteer was acting as their agent or where the organisation’s conduct could be taken to have authorised or assisted the sexual harassment.

The Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) may be relevant here as well. This Act provides that an incorporated community organisation may be responsible for the actions of its volunteers, rather than the volunteers themselves being directly liable in civil proceedings, for things done in good faith when undertaking community work. This protection will not apply when the actions are not in good faith or when they were contrary to instructions given by the community organisation.

The organisation should also consider any obligations it has under occupational health and safety legislation to provide a safe working environment for its staff, and any duty of care it may have to clients. This will be dependent on the particular circumstances.

The best thing for an organisation to do is to provide clear guidance on what volunteers are authorised to do, for example, by providing a role or position description, and to make clear its expectations that sexual harassment is not acceptable.

If you need more information, please contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
Enquiry Line: 1300 292 153
Telephone: 1300 891 848
Fax: 1300 891 858
TTY: 1300 289 621

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