Proactive or Reactive – Managing Unlawful Behaviour in Workplaces

In today’s world, where workplace dynamics are under constant scrutiny, unlawful behaviour demands urgent attention because it is more prevalent than you might imagine.  

A recent report released by Lloyd’s Register Foundation found that Australia has one of the highest rates of workplace violence and harassment in the world, with an average of 49.1% (compared to 21% globally). There is clearly much we all need to do to make workplaces in Australia safer. 

The safety laws and the Respect at Work Act 2022 created significant changes to what constitutes unlawful behaviours and place greater responsibilities on employers.  

While reactive measures have traditionally been the norm, there’s a compelling case to be made for proactive approaches in addressing these pervasive issues. This blog delves into why it’s essential to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to managing sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying in workplaces. 

Cultivating a Safe and Respectful Culture 

Proactive measures set the tone for a workplace culture that prioritises safety, respect, and inclusivity. By establishing clear policies, providing comprehensive training, and fostering open communication channels, organisations can create an environment where unlawful behaviour is not tolerated from the outset. 

Empowering Employees 

Proactive approaches empower employees to speak up and report incidents of unlawful behaviour without fear of retaliation. When individuals feel supported and confident in the organisation’s commitment to addressing such issues, they are more likely to come forward, enabling swift and effective intervention. 

Prevention of Harm 

Acting proactively allows organisations to identify and address potential sources of unlawful behaviour before they escalate into harmful situations. By conducting regular assessments, implementing preventative measures, and promoting bystander intervention, workplaces can mitigate the risk occurring in the first place. 

Legal Compliance and Risk Management 

Being proactive in addressing unlawful behaviour is not just a moral imperative but also a legal requirement. WHS/EEO Laws and Positive Duty Guidelines in the Respect at Work Act mandate that employers provide a safe working environment free from harassment, discrimination, and bullying. By taking proactive steps to comply with these legal obligations, organisations can minimize legal and financial risks. 

Preserving Trust and Reputation 

Reactive responses to incidents can damage trust within the organisation and tarnish its reputation externally. On the other hand, proactive measures demonstrate a commitment to upholding ethical standards and prioritising the wellbeing of employees. This, in turn, enhances trust among employees, clients, and the wider community. 

Promoting Organisational Growth and Innovation 

A workplace that addresses unlawful behaviour proactively fosters a culture of accountability, transparency, and continuous improvement. Employees can be more engaged, innovative, and productive when they feel safe and respected, leading to better business outcomes and organisational growth. 

Think about this in the context of your own organisation. Are you proactive or reactive when it comes to addressing unlawful behaviour? Are your policies and procedures compliant with recent changes in legislation? As a lawyer myself, I researched all three sets of legislation and created a convenient Risk Audit Tool which you can use to assess the compliance status of your organisation. This tool is available in our EEO Compliance Hub… email me at for complimentary access.

In conclusion, the benefits of adopting a proactive approach to managing unlawful workplace behaviour are undeniable. By prioritising empowerment, respect and compliance, you can create safer, healthier and more productive work environment. Prevention is not only better than cure, it is also essential for building a brighter, more inclusive future for all.




The author, Franca Sala Tenna, is an acknowledged workplace behaviour and compliance expert. She is also the Founder & Director of EEO Specialists, and Online Compliance Training Australia.