Labor Government introduces legislation to provide for positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment at work

Following through on its promise to implement all 55 recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report, the Australian Government has introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 (Bill)

The Bill contains reforms which aim to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation. The Bill is aimed at requiring employers to focus on proactively implementing measures to prevent such conduct from occurring and to improve gender equality in the workplace.

What are the key reforms in the Bill?

  • The Bill expressly prohibits “hostile workplace environments” by prohibiting conduct that results in an offensive, intimidating and humiliating environment for people of one sex.
  • Employers will have a positive duty to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work workplace environments and victimisation as far as possible. This positive duty will complement existing WHS duties which require employers to ensure the health and safety of workers so far as reasonably practicable.
  • The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will have power to conduct inquiries into suspected systematic unlawful discrimination and publish reports into the findings of any inquiry.
  • The AHRC Act will be amended to include a provision which says that each party is to bear their own costs in legal proceedings (subject to an overriding discretion of the Court).

Tips for employers in preparing for the reform

We recommend that employers start to take the following steps to prepare for the reform:

  • Undertake a review of current WHS and personnel policies and consider whether there is scope to improve those policies in relation to sexual harassment prevention.
  • Undertake a review of reporting methods in relation to employee grievances.
  • Consider implementing or reviewing continuous workplace monitoring, such as surveys, to assess whether sexual harassment is occurring in the workplace.
  • Consider whether employees need any training on preventing sexual harassment and/or how to report instances of sexual harassment.
  • Review and reflect on your workplace culture generally and whether any steps can be taken to improve gender equality.

More information

If you have any queries about this article or need assistance with the above recommendations, please contact:

Joe Mullavey
M: 0416 794 061

Audrey Clarkson
T: (03) 6235 5125

Published: 13 October 2022

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