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Eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace

Do you know your rights?

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woman on worksite

97% of cases of sexual harassment are non-physical.

https://knowtheline.humanrights.gov.au/

We all have rights in a workplace – as workers, business owners, contractors and customers.

Comprehensive legislation on work health and safety, and fair working conditions, is in place to keep everyone safe. And while many of us are familiar with WHS regulations and codes of practice, how familiar are you with your rights and responsibilities when it comes to preventing or reporting sexual harassment at work?

New legislation guiding workplaces

The Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021 took effect on 11 September 2021.

It came about after the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) released an inquiry report into the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The inquiry looked at 460 submissions from various stakeholders and consulted with more than 600 people across Australia.

The new legislation is designed to make sure workers are protected and empowered to address unlawful sexual harassment in the workplace. It also calls on employers to do more to prevent it occurring.

What has changed?

The previous Sex Discrimination Act was released in 1984 – reflecting a very different workplace environment and structure to what has evolved since. The changes to the legislation now better reflect what our current and future workplaces expect in relation to acceptable behaviours.

The Respect at Work legislation simplifies the laws and encourages employers to take more proactive measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. The legislation has also changed the Fair Work Act 2009 to define sexual harassment more clearly and to give the Fair Work Commission more power to stop sexual harassment at work.

Expect more from your workplace

One of the key findings from the Commission’s report was that many who experience sexual harassment never report it – for fear of ‘the impact that complaining will have on their reputation, career prospects and relationships within their community or industry.’

Based on this feedback, the Commission’s report recommended employers take a more preventative approach rather than a reactive, complaints-based approach. This includes educating all staff about what types of behaviour are accepted, implementing policies to address areas of power imbalance, and encouraging staff to call out any instances of sexual harassment.

Under the legislation, a broader definition of a ‘worker’ also applies, meaning it’s not just employees who can apply for a formal order to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.

Workers who may apply to the Fair Work Commission to stop sexual harassment:

  • an employee
  • a contractor or subcontractor
  • an employee of a contractor or subcontractor
  • an employee of a labour hire company who has been assigned to work in a business or undertaking
  • an outworker
  • an apprentice or trainee
  • an intern
  • a student gaining work experience
  • some volunteers.

If you witness sexual harassment or discrimination at work, call it out. It’s time to talk about positive behaviours more openly with workmates because everyone has a role to play in changing a workplace or worksite culture.

If you’re not sure who to talk to, try your supervisor, a WHS rep, your union or a lawyer. You can also get help at the Fair Work Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Did you know, sexually suggestive comments or jokes account for 55% of the most common forms of workplace sexual harassment?

https://knowtheline.humanrights.gov.au/

Helpline

1300 889 156 providing confidential, practical (non-legal) advice on issues of discrimination and harassment, and avenues that are available to you.

Build a better workplace culture

Workplace sexual harassment is costing business owners time and money – through lost productivity, reputational damage, staff turnover, resources associated with litigation, and more.

As a business owner or manager, it’s more important than ever to understand how to prevent sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace, while also knowing how to respond if it does occur. It’s the law.

As a minimum, business owners can:

Learn more by downloading resources from: