"It doesn't matter what you're wearing, unacceptable behaviour
is unacceptable behaviour"

AMANTHA DONOVAN: The allegations against actor Craig McLachlan have again put the spotlight on sexual harassment and bullying in the entertainment industry.

Actors and other performers often work in situations very different to those in an office or other workplace.

They may be in skimpy costumes or acting out a sex scene.

But employment lawyer Danny King told me that when it comes to protecting workers those unique circumstances shouldn't make any difference.

DANNY KING: What is acceptable in the Australian community, is going to be the same no matter what context you're in.

You think about Mad Men, for instance, back in the day, the culture was ok in advertising, for instance, to pinch bottoms and fornicate in the office, and all that kind of thing.

But these days, even in the creative industries, that kind of behaviour's not ok, because it's not ok in the broader community.

So, it's really about the context of the work that people are performing, that's making it difficult.

So, if you're on a porn set, as an example, there's going to be sex and there's going to be lots of touching, and that's going to be appropriate to the context.

But if you've got any other situation, including a sex scene in a tv program, or a stage show where there's lude content, it's going to be really important to set boundaries around what is and isn't ok in that specific context.

And stepping out of those boundaries, is going to be just as inappropriate as any other context.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Is it the employer who has to set those boundaries?

Or say, for example, the actors taking part in that production?

DANNY KING: The employer is going to be ultimately responsible for any sexual harassment that occurs, or discrimination that occurs, except where they are able to prove that they've taken reasonable and appropriate steps to make sure it doesn't happen - and then it's really on the perpetrator who is going to be in the most trouble.

However, in this kind of context, it's important that everybody takes responsibility.

So the complainant will need to make it clear that "these are my boundaries, and you're crossing them." As well as the employer making sure that there are appropriate systems in place for instance, for the complainant to make an allegation, for that allegation to procedurally, appropriately managed - for it to be investigated - and for there to be the opportunity for a fair investigation where parties can each give their own side of the story.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The 'Me Too' movement though, has revealed great power imbalances in the entertainment industry, and it seems women and men often put up with a lot because they want to hang onto their jobs.

How can that power imbalance be overcome?

DANNY KING: I think for 'Me Too' campaign or the movement is doing the work of overcoming it.

And we've got to be careful to some extent, it doesn't shift too far the other way, so that it becomes easy to victimise a person by simply naming and shaming, when it could be used in a vindictive way.

So, I think the processes that are in place, if we all respect them and use them, then that's how we are going to get more equality in the system.

And we've just got to be careful about allowing too much of the name and shame without an appropriate process in the background, so that everybody is protected.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: What are the processes or the safeguards that employers in the entertainment industry should be putting in place?

DANNY KING: First and foremost, you should foster a respectful culture, and make it known to everybody that comes into your organisation, just how it is going to be appropriate to behave in that context.

And then, they should also have policies and actually use them.

And finally, just make it ok to speak up.

Have a safe, careful investigation process, where you might brief it out to a professional who could run the process for you.

But just make it ok to raise a complaint.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Do employers, like production companies, or film makers, need to put more supervision in place - more people to keep an eye on what's actually going on?

DANNY KING: Supervision can only go so far.

You can't watch absolutely everything that an employee does to another employee, and the obligation extends beyond just what happens in the workplace, it's at the pub at a Christmas party, you can be liable for sexual harassment if it occurs there.

So, it's more about creating the workplace environment, that doesn't allow harassment to occur, and then providing the infrastructure for when harassment does occur, for the complaint to be properly addressed.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Employment lawyer Danny King from Danny King Legal.

© Australian Broadcasting Company (2018)