Employers need to take greater action to prevent sexual harassment of their staff, especially women starting work in small businesses, the ACTU said today.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said that she was disappointed by the evidence of 152 claims of sexual harassment in the workplace investigated last year by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward today released a report on the 152 cases, entitled A Bad Business: Review of sexual harassment in employment complaints 2002.

“The report shows that the cost to the victims of harassment – 95% of whom are women – is very high,” Ms Burrow said.

“The experience of workplace sexual harassment is so damaging to its victims that the great majority leave their jobs. The report shows that only 7% of victims were still working for their employer at the time of their complaint to the Commission.

“It is clear that employers need to take greater care to protect new employees in particular. In the majority of cases (72%), sexual harassment was reported during the first 12 months of a person’s employment,” Ms Burrow said.

“Many employers need to lift their game in dealing with complaints. The report shows that 78% of the cases were first reported to employers who were unable to resolve the situation without the complaint being made to the Commission.

“Small businesses are no exception and must comply with the law on sexual harassment just as much as larger businesses,” Ms Burrow said.

The report found that small businesses accounted for 44% of the sexual harassment cases. However small businesses account for less than one-third of all employees, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.