As a result of some of the recommendations in the Respect@Work report, legislative changes have been introduced aiming to protect workers in respect of workplace sexual harassment.
On 10 September 2021, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021 became law. This Act introduces changes to a number of federal laws, including the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).
The major changes include:
- The Fair Work Commission will now have the ability to issue a “stop order” in relation to sexual harassment as part of their existing anti-bullying jurisdiction. This provides workers access to a faster and lower cost process to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, rather than having to make a formal claim. This provision commences after a 2 month transition winder, but then will apply notwithstanding whether the conduct occurred before or after the commencement of the new laws.
- Sexual harassment is now a valid reason for dismissing a worker. This is in addition to the recent changes to the Fair Work Regulations (July 2021) which made sexual harassment “serious misconduct” for the purposes of a dismissal.
- The Fair Work Act is amended to extend the compassionate leave provisions to include leave when an employee or the employee’s partner has a miscarriage.
- Workers can now make a claim under the civil remedy provisions of the Fair Work Act for Sexual Harassment.
- The Sex Discrimination Act has been amended to make it clearer that discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited and that the aim is to achieve “so far as practicable, equality of opportunity between men and women”.
- Sexual Harassment protections are extended to include all workers, including paid workers, unpaid workers, interns and self-employed persons.
- The application of the Act has been extended to include members of state and federal parliament, judges, their staff, and public servants.
- The scope of the Act has also been extended to include the conduct of a person who ‘causes, instructs, induces, aids or permits’ the unlawful act. This will also be unlawful conduct.
- The time limit for claims of sexual harassment under the Human Rights Commission Act has been extended from 6 months to 2 years.
We recommend that all businesses and employers are proactive in making their workplaces safe. This includes reviewing policies and training to ensure their workplace is genuinely inclusive and safe for all workers, and giving workers access to information regarding the new protections.