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Let’s say you’re a corporate executive travelling overseas and after a day’s hard work you head off to the local watering hole with colleagues based in this foreign hot spot. You have a few convivial drinks, then a few more, and you loosen up. You’re a long way from home and make a few compliments of the appearance of the attractive junior assistant who came along for the social drinks.

However, given your senses are somewhat dulled, you misread the signals you get back. Your advances are unwelcome. You persist. A suggestive comment is rejected. Your hand lands in the wrong place. You make a fumbled attempt to embrace or kiss.

You should have known better and remembered that this was a work trip. One of your colleagues should have stepped in to head you off and disentangle the junior employee. But neither happened and you are now potentially in big trouble under the sexual harassment rules of Australian workplace laws.

Being overseas and having a few too many in a pub is no excuse for such behaviour whether it be New York, London, Paris or, yes, Hong Kong. It doesn’t matter if you are a corporate executive, scientist, academic or yes, a politician. And we recently saw what happened to an over-friendly government minister due to his behaviour towards a junior female employee in a Hong Kong bar.

Workplace law specialist Nathan Luke of Stacks Law Firm warns that if you are in a senior position making unwelcome sexual overtures to a person in a junior position you are abusing your position of power over them.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are in the workplace, at a work function outside the office – and that includes Christmas parties and social events – or in a bar overseas, exploiting your position of power over another amounts to sexual harassment and can breach workplace laws or companies’ codes of conduct,” Mr Luke said.

“So long as the harassment takes place with a work colleague at a place or event associated with your workplace then it can be workplace harassment. Being drunk or jet lagged is no defence.”

Mr Luke says this also applies to bullying and abuse that humiliate or embarrass work colleagues. He warns the courts have supported the sacking of employees who breach workplace rules in a hotel room many hours after the office party ended.

“The old adage that what happens on tour stays on tour no longer applies when it comes to workplace harassment or bullying. Even online harassment is now open to legal action.”

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