Human Rights Commission 'failed' in dealing with sexual harassment claims

The Human Rights Commission "failed" in dealing with sexual harassment claims made by staff members, a Ministerial review has found.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has released the findings review into the Commission's handling of sexual harassment and its organisational culture.

He said the findings from retired Judge Coral Shaw "reveal a system that failed to provide proper care and support for sexual harassment claims made by staff".

"Obviously it is disappointing that our principal human rights body has been found to be wanting when it comes to the quality of its own culture and processes to look after its people," Mr Little said.

The review found that sexual harassment occurred at the Commission but it wasn't "prevalent or endemic".

It found that the HRC policies used to investigate an incident of sexual harassment in October last year were "aged and outdated".

Staff members were found to have a lack of information and a lack of trust in management to properly deal with their sexual harassment complaints.

Mr Little said the review found there were "unsatisfactory relationships" among senior leaders at the Commission including "all but a total breakdown in the relationship between the Chief Commissioner and at least one other Commissioner". 

The Minister ordered the review after it was revealed a senior staff member had sexually harassed an intern who then left her position - while the staff member kept his.

The review made 30 recommendations including that the HR capacity at the organisation "be urgently reviewed and strengthened" and that "unresolved personal and professional conflicts between the Chief Executive and the Board or individual Commissioners be proactively addressed".

The Minister was urged to make decisions on the tenure of Commissioners whose term has expired or is near expiry, and to begin the recruitment process for any new appointments "without undue delay".

Mr Little said he is awaiting advice from the Ministry of Justice and will meet with the State Services Commission on Tuesday to discuss how to proceed with the recommendations.

"I am determined that we get a Human Rights Commission that is functioning well and that is a good place to work," he said.