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Proposed Sexual Harassment Legislation: Increased Employer Responsibilities

The newly introduced Federal Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights amendment (Respect of Work) Bill 2022 (Cth) proposes to put the responsibility on employers to prevent workplace sexual harassment. These changes are based on the recent Respect@Work report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.  

The most important change is the positive duty to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. This means employers and their key people in charge must be proactive and take reasonable steps and proportionate measures to eliminate unlawful sexual discrimination, as far as possible.

This is on top of the already existing responsibility of employers to establish and maintain the appropriate mechanisms to respond to such claims once any allegedly discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate conduct has already taken place.

To comply to the new law, businesses will need to: 

  • have relevant workplace sexual harassment policies and procedures  
  • provide appropriate support for workers
  • deliver training and education on a regular basis regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.  

How much a business needs to provide will depend on the: 

  • size, type and circumstances of the business 
  • resources of the employer 
  • practicalities and costs involved with the above three compliance measures listed.  

The changes could mean that employers could be subject to compliance notices if they are not meeting their positive duty obligations to prevent harassment.  

It is speculated that sexual harassment affects, or has affected, a significant number of Australians. It is reported that 1 in 3 people are experiencing sexual harassment at work on average, and women suffering double the rate than men. Others in our community, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people with a disability and members of the LGBTQ+ communities are also more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace. 

The effects of sexual harassment and discrimination are life impacting and have been associated with many negative effects such as: 

  • psychological effects including lower life satisfaction and mental health issues such as anxiety, fear and depression, lowered self-esteem, personal relationship issues, increase absenteeism, decrease morale, tense and unproductive work environments.  
  • physical health impacts including headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, sleep disorders, weight gain, minor aches and pains. 
  • financial stresses from job losses and resignations, job and career changes, irreparable damage to interpersonal relationships at work. 

Aside from the human costs, the effects on businesses and organisations generally are also negative. These may include reduced productivity and efficiency, a lack of commitment, high staff turnover, low retention rates, and lower performances from workers. Many of these problems are avoidable and are unnecessary costs to employers. 

The proposed legislation is to ensure that everyone has the right to a safe and respectful workplace, along with the right not to be impacted by the consequences listed above.

While these are proposed changes, the Respect@Work report has been highly anticipated and these new laws are likely to pass in a form which is either the same or similar to the Government has introduced to Parliament. 

When these changes become law, it will not be sufficient for businesses and organisations to implement the relevant processes and procedures as they see fit and it is important to prepared. Instead, it is important that steps are taken now so that business or organisation will be compliant when the proposed changes take effect. 

What steps will need to be taken by your business will be highly dependent on your current way of working and the policies that have already been implemented. For further information, contact me at [email protected] to ensure your business is ready. 

Contact us at HR in a BOX today!

Suzanne Diprose, Director
[email protected]
0408 897 079