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Employers required to prevent sexual harassment under new legislation – Employee Rights/ Labour Relations

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Yesterday the Federal Government introduced a bill into
Parliament, implementing an additional seven recommendations from
the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work

The report was released in March 2020 following the National
Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces
. Among
its 55 recommendations, the report recommended the implementation
of a positive duty on all employers to take reasonable and
proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment,
victimisation and discrimination based on sex. The Labor Government
previously committed to implement all 55 of the Report’s
recommendations as a matter of priority.

If the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation
Amendment (Respect at Work)
Bill 2022 is passed by
Parliament (which appears likely), employers will be required to
prevent sexual harassment and sex discrimination within their
organisation by taking positive steps to eliminate or mitigate
underlying factors which contribute to this behaviour.

What does the new legislation mean for businesses?

Under the proposed legislation, the Australian Human Rights
Commission would have the power to:

  • Conduct inquiries into compliance;

  • Make recommendations to prevent a repetition or continuation of
    the failure to comply;

  • Issue compliance notices to organisations outlining actions to
    address non-compliance; and

  • Apply to the Court to enforce compliance.

The legislation will look beyond remedies to misconduct and
shift the responsibility to employers to act proactively rather
than reactively. The legislation will:

  • expressly prohibit conduct that creates a hostile work
    environment on the basis of sex;

  • require the federal public sector to report its performance on
    gender equality; and

  • include achieving substantive equality between men and women as
    an object of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984

A joint statement from Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Minister
for Women Katy Gallagher and Workplace Relations Minister, Tony
Burke stated that “sexual harassment is by no means
inevitable and the passage of this bill will move Australia forward
in our efforts to prevent workplace sexual harassment from
happening in the first place”

Employers’ obligations

In the leadup to the changes, employers should ensure they have
up-to-date policies, procedures and training practices to
proactively prevent and address sexual harassment and sex
discrimination in the workplace.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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