New Sexual Harassment at work legislative changes recommended

What is the Respect@Work Report and what are the outcomes for business?

As Australia recovers from COVID-19, there is a renewed focus back on the societal shift in relation to Sexual Harassment at work. Last month the Morrison Government responded to the Respect@Work Report- but what is it about, and what does it mean for business?

How did it start?

On the back of the momentum gained by the #Metoo movement, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins and the then Minister for Women, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer announced the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (Inquiry) in June 2018.  The intent was to investigate how common it was, the role of technology, what drives the behaviour, the current legal framework, impacts and how well it was being addressed.

What did they find?

 In March 2020, the Report@Work was released, providing 55 recommendations for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.  The alarming stats showed that one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the past 5 years[1].  This translates to an estimated $3.8 Billion cost to our economy.

Sexual Harassment costs employers through:

  • Lost productivity
  • Staff turnover
  • Negative Impact on workplace culture
  • Resources associated with responding to complaints, litigation and workers compensation 
  • Reputational damage.[2]

They found that the current system for addressing workplace sexual harassment is complex, confusing and puts the burden on the victim to make a complaint.

Where to now?

 In April 2021, the Morrison Government announced its response to the Respect@Work Report.  Of the 55 recommendations, all were accepted in full, part or principle.  These ranged from introducing a Workplace Sexual Harassment Council to increased funding for support services, changes to legislation and education. 

What does Sexual Harassment at work mean for business?

Some of the biggest changes that will impact business are:

  • The definition of serious misconduct will be amended to include sexual harassment. This means proven sexual harassers can be terminated on grounds of serious misconduct (depending on the case and severity)
  • Extension of time for victims to come forward extended from 6 months to 24 months
  • The recommendation to put a positive duty on employers to protect employees from sexual harassment will be reviewed.   Although the government noted that a positive duty already exists on employers to ensure so far as reasonably practicable that workers are not exposed to health and safety risks
  • Amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure ‘all workers’ are covered. This includes unpaid workers and contractors
  • Workers will have access to use the ‘stop bullying order’ for sexual harassment
  • The Workplace Sexual Harassment Council will lead a new collaboration by unions, employers and employer associations called Respect@Work, which will deliver information, education and resources for workers and employers through an online platform
  • Funding to support and information services for workers and employers will be improved to assist navigating the process of a claim
  • Supporting greater coordination between agencies and services to ensure workers and employers have access to consistent information.

What can I do to promote Respect@Work?

As our Prime Ministers says- “It’s about creating a culture of respectful behaviour in Australian workplaces”. 

It is the responsibility of all individuals to improve, as everyone has the right to be safe at work.

Industryus can help- if you believe you have a cultural workplace issue, we can work with you to tailor a program to support change.  Industryus can also supply Workplace Behaviour training, written in house by our experts and professionally produced. Covering topics such as discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and other workplace conduct, the video will assist organisations in administering their compliance-based onboarding and annual training in a cost-effective manner. 

Call us on 07 5655 4047 or book in a free intro session,  if you would like help with either of these options.

The Australian Human Rights Commission Respect@Work report can be found here.

[1] Australian Human Rights Commission, Everyone’s Business: Fourth National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (2018) 8.

2 Respect@work: National Inquiry into Sexual harassment in Australian Workplaces, 2020, The Australian Human Rights commission. file:///C:/Users/shell/Downloads/ahrc_wsh_report_2020.pdf.



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