Employers must be proactive incorporating [email protected] changes

Published September 13, 2021 -
Respect At Work

The new legal changes introduced in the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 will help empower business owners to stamp out sexual harassment and other forms of sex discrimination in the workplace.

Federal Parliament has passed several changes to the Fair Work Act and other legislation thanks to the Re[email protected] report, including incorporating the definition of sexual harassment seen in the Sex Discrimination Act, making sexual harassment a sackable offence, and making it clearer that harassing a person on the basis of sex is prohibited.

Under the changes, workers who reasonably believe they have been sexually harassed at work will be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop sexual harassment in the workplace (coming into effect in two months’ time). Employees will now have 24 months to lodge a sexual harassment complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission instead of the previous six months.

“Amending the discrimination act to align with WHS laws is a win for all, and it sends a strong message that will put everyone on notice. It puts a manageable system in place that will help in putting a stop to discrimination. The changes are understandable, add consistency across industries, and help to advance the rights of women,” said Employsure health and safety manager Emma Panier.

“The changes impose an obligation and gives accountability to employers to address issues in the workplace. By taking responsibility away from lower management and putting it onto the business owner, it will help them deal with harassment claims quicker and more thoroughly.”

Knowing how to deal with sexual harassment is on the minds of employers. While calls to Employsure’s employer advice line regarding sexual harassment have declined in the past two months due to lockdowns, in March, when most employees were back at work, the number of calls were the highest they’ve been all year, suggesting it is still a prevalent issue.

Employers must therefore ensure they are aware of what these news changes are and incorporate them, if they haven’t already, into their own workplace policies and documentation. If an employee alleges sexual harassment it should be considered as serious misconduct and treated as such. Suspension, interviewing witnesses and offering support to the affected employee may be necessary.

Employers should also work to stamp out harassment from the start by defining a work culture that has strong core values and respects each and every employee as much as company results. Strong values are the guiding principles that empower business owners to create a workplace that exhibits honesty, trust and commitment which allows both personal and professional growth. Creating this mindset can help to improve employee engagement, decency, retention, and generate higher levels of productivity.

“Previous discrimination laws were progressive when they were first introduced, and Australia was a world leader. However, over time, it became evident that they were overly complex, cumbersome and ineffective at achieving the goal of eradicating discrimination in the modern world,” continued Ms Panier.

“The new legislation is a step in the right direction and aligns with societal goals of obtaining equality for all. These new laws clearly outline what sexual discrimination is, and provide a wider range of tools to assist in the elimination of sexual discrimination in the workplace.”


Further enquiries:

Matthew Bridges

[email protected]

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