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Workplace sexual assault reforms on the way

Published November 24, 2022 (last updated February 9, 2023) - Head of Health and Safety

The Minister for Industrial Relations and Workplace Safety Mick Gentleman announced a range of changes to workplace health and safety laws including a new rule requiring ACT employers to report sexual assault incidents to WorkSafe ACT. The law bridges the legislation gap where previously employers were only mandated to report sexual assault incidents in cases of hospital admission or medical treatment. This reform is an important step in addressing psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

Workplace sexual harassment

Since 2003, the Australian Human Rights Commission has conducted four periodic surveys on the national experience of sexual harassment. These surveys have revealed a grim and shocking reality of the gendered and intersectional nature of workplace sexual harassment.

One in three people said they experienced workplace sexual harassment in the last five years. Sexual harassment occurs in every industry and at every level in Australian workplaces. The implications of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace are far-reaching. It’s high time that action is taken against it.

Workplace sexual harassment also represents financial costs to the economy through lost productivity, staff turnover, and other related impacts.

 If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a positive duty of care to do all that you reasonably can to eliminate or minimise the risk of sexual harassment at work. This includes sexual harassment between workers, and other people at the workplace, like customers and clients.

Workplace sexual harassment can affect anybody. As an employer, you should act now and prevent sexual harassment before it happens.

  • Know your Duties- Know your obligations as an employer. Communicate these duties to your employees regularly.
  • Implement policies- Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment. Implement company policies and procedures that define sexual harassment and the expected code of conduct for all current and new employees.
  • Talk to experts- Do you know what to do if an employee claims they were sexually harassed? Considering working with employment relations experts or external investigators to investigate harassment claims and take appropriate action.  
  • Create a safe space- Do your employees feel safe and supported? Create a safe space where employees feel comfortable, protected, and respected.

Prevent workplace sexual harassment

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to take measures to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace and respond to sexual harassment claims properly.

What does it mean for employers?

Every employee in every business operating in the ACT will be protected by the new law. It means that employers must formally notify WorkSafe ACT as soon as they become aware of a sexual assault incident in their workplace.

The ACT Government is also working on broader reforms to address the impacts of psychological illnesses and injuries at work. This will consist of a code of practice for managing psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

To know more about your duties as an employer under the latest changes, call our 24/7 Advice Line today.

* Please note that this document is intended as general information and does not constitute legal advice. Contact a legal professional or employment relations expert if you need advice.

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