Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace: new legislation means new obligations for employers
Recent weeks have witnessed the passing of several key pieces of legislation by the Federal Government which will result in key changes to workplace law in Australia.
One piece of legislation that will have a significant impact on employment terms and conditions is the new Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (AHRC) (also known as the Respect at Work Bill) which was passed by Federal Parliament on 28 November 2022.
The provisions of this Bill introduce a number of new obligations on you as an employer including a positive duty to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace. We break down what these changes are and what they will mean for organisations.
The new AHRC powers will come into effect 12 months after the Respect at Work Act 2022 receives Royal Assent, giving employers 12 months to understand and begin to comply with the positive duty.
Respect at Work
The Respect at Work Bill applies to all employers in Australia, as well as all employees, contractors, and volunteers working for these businesses or organisations. This covers all aspects of the workplace, from in-person interactions to online communications.
The AHRC will be granted authority to monitor and enforce compliance with this duty. If an employer is found to be in breach of the positive duty, they may face a range of potential consequences, such as being required to take specific actions to address the issue, being ordered to pay damages to any affected individuals, or being subject to other penalties or sanctions as determined by the courts.
What is changing?
One of the most significant changes to come from this legislation is that employers will now have a positive duty to prevent sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimisation.
As Akyra’s Managing Director Margaret Goody explains, “this positive duty shifts the focus for employers from responding to acts of discrimination and harassment to proactively preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”
Significantly, the AHRC will have the authority to monitor and enforce compliance on these matters when employers are found to not be meeting their obligations.
Other changes connected to the Respect@Work Bill include:
- The Sexual Discrimination Act will now expressly prohibit conduct that subjects another person to a hostile workplace environment on the ground of sex.
- The Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) will be amended to allow representative bodies, e.g. unions, to make applications to the courts on behalf of persons in relation to a terminated complaint.
- An extended timeframe from 6 months to 24 months to make a complaint(s) relating to alleged unlawful conduct.
Next steps for employers
For employers, it is critical you proactively “take reasonable and proportionate measures” to be compliant t with the new positive duty to eliminate and prevent sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace.
All employers should begin examining their policies and processes in relation to risk, oversight, education, and management of sexual harassment in the workplace.
To ensure you are fully compliant with these new workplace laws, you should consider the following measures:
- audit and, where appropriate, update existing policies and procedures on sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation to ensure they accurately reflect the amendments under the Respect@Work Bill.
- implement training on sexual harassment periodically for the purposes of educating all employees
- conduct a sexual harassment-specific risk assessment; and
- monitor the workplace environment and culture and responding to any risks or incidents.
Akyra Key Takeaways
- The Respect@Work Bill introduces a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and victimisation in the workplace.
- The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will be granted new powers to monitor and enforce compliance with the positive duty on employers.
- The Respect@Work bill applies to all employers, regardless of the size or type of business so it affects every business across Australia.
- To ensure they understand and are fully compliant with the new legislation, employers should review and update all existing policies, procedures and training relating to the prevention of sexual harassment and sex discrimination
How can we help?
Akyra Strategy & Development is here to help our valued clients understand and comply with the new amendments under the Respect@Work Bill. Our team of HR specialists can provide personalised advice on the changes and their implications for your business, as well as assist with reviewing and updating your existing policies and procedures to ensure they align with the new requirements. Contact us today to learn more.
Disclaimer – Reliance on Content
The material distributed is general information only. The information supplied is not intended to be legal or other professional advice, nor should it be relied upon as such. You should seek legal or professional advice in relation to your specific situation.