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The Federal Government has announced that it will be introducing legislation to Parliament to bolster the national framework for addressing sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The proposed legislation will implement a number of the recommendations made by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, in the Respect@Work Report published in 2020.
The Respect@Work Report was published following the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces in 2018. The inquiry found that 33% of people surveyed had experienced sexual harassment at work. The Respect@Work Report set out 55 recommendations for addressing sexual harassment in workplaces, including a range of potential legislative reforms.
The Government has now accepted in whole, in part, in principle or noted all 55 recommendations and indicated which legislatives changes it proposes be put to Parliament. However, a number of significant recommendations have not been wholly adopted by the Government yet.
In summary, the proposed legislative reforms are as follows:
In addition to these legislative changes, the Government agreed in principle or in part to the following changes:
Commissioner Jenkins also recommended the Sex Discrimination Act be amended to include a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. The Government is still considering whether it will implement this recommendation, stating that workplace health and safety legislation already places a duty on employers to prevent risks to a worker’s health and safety, which includes the risk of sexual harassment. It will also assess whether such a duty would create further complexity, uncertainty or duplication in the legislative framework, given the report’s findings about the complexity and confusion with the existing system for addressing sexual harassment.
The Government has indicated that these proposed legislative reforms will be prepared by the end of June this year.
If these legislative changes are passed into legislation, there will be significant implications for employers in the way they approach sexual harassment claims, investigations and disciplinary actions, and for employees in the recourse available if they experience sexual harassment in the workplace. In preparation for these changes, employers should:
If the proposed legislation is passed through Parliament, employers should review their sexual harassment policies and grievance management procedures and ensure all workers and officers receive training on the new laws.
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