Employers are now legally obligated to take ‘reasonable and proportionate measures’ to prevent workplace sexual harassment under new legislation introduced by the Labor Government. The new legislation is being implemented according to recommendations made by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins’, Respect@Work report (“the Report”).
The Report published in March 2020 revealed that 1 in 3 people experienced sexual harassment in the five years leading up to 2018 and also found that Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders were disproportionately affected. As such, Jenkins made 55 recommendations in the Report targeted towards accomplishing “safe, gender-equal and inclusive workplaces” nationwide.
The former Morrison government adopted six of these recommendations last year. Prior to being elected, the Labor Government committed to implementing the rest of the recommendations if elected. This month the Albanese Government will adopt a further seven recommendations from the Report.
The following recommendations are being implemented in October 2022:
- Recommendation 16(c) amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), introducing an express duty “to protect people from hostile workplace environments on the grounds of sex.” Employers will now have a positive obligation to create a workplace that minimises risk of any worker experiencing unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment.
- Recommendation 19 will empower the Australian Human Rights Commission to enforce this new positive duty of employers. The AHRC will now be able to inquire into systemic unlawful discrimination, which was defined in the Report as “unlawful discrimination that affects a group of people and is continuous, repetitive or forms a pattern“.
- Recommendation 23 means that actions before the AHRC regarding matters of systemic unlawful discrimination will proceed to courts.
- Recommendation 25 will insert a costs protection in the AHRC jurisdiction consistent with section 570 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
- Recommendation 43 amends the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth) so that the public sector is now required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on its gender equality indicators and fund the Workplace Gender Equality Agency adequately.
- Recommendation 16(a) amends the objectives of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) so that it now states it seeks to achieve equality between men and women.
Employers should be aware that they now must take extra precaution in creating a safe and fair workplace for their employees. Are your workplace policies are in line with the new standards implemented from the Report? If you have any questions about possibly amending your current policies, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Peter Hindeleh, Daphne Klianis or Josh Hoggett to obtain advice on how your policies should be amended, to ensure your business meets the new requirements introduced this month.