Federal Parliament passes workplace sexual harassment Bill — Respect@Work
In this article, Partner Andrew Tobin, Senior Associate Adele Garnett and Solicitor John Hickey discuss the latest legislative amendments with respect to sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
On 11 September 2021 the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021 (the Act) commenced operation. The long-awaited enactment of this legislation is a critical step forward for victims of sexual harassment across Australia.
The Federal Parliament, however, stopped short of imposing a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace sexual harassment. Accordingly, the burden continues to remain on victims of sexual harassment to enter into lengthy complaint processes at their own cost and risk in order to protect themselves from ongoing harm.
The Act gives effect to several legislative amendments recommended in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Respect@Work Report. The Respect@Work Report provided a suite of recommendations to improve the legal and regulatory framework relating to sexual harassment in Australia.
Relevantly, the Act:
The regulations to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) have also been amended to provide expressly that sexual harassment can be a valid reason for dismissal, as one example of ‘serious misconduct’, under the FW Act. This amendment simply clarifies the existing position at law.
In addition to implementing the above recommendations from the Respect@Work Report, the Act amends the existing entitlement to compassionate leave in the FW Act to include miscarriage as a permissible occasion. The effect of this amendment is that employees may now take up to two days of paid compassionate leave (unpaid for casuals) if the employee, or their current spouse or de facto partner, has a miscarriage. Miscarriage is defined in accordance with the general medical meaning of miscarriage — i.e., the spontaneous loss of the embryo or fetus before 20 weeks’ gestation.
Employers must be cognisant of these legislative changes and ensure that their current workplace policies and procedures are up to date in accordance with the Act.
If you require any further information or clarification, or for assistance with reviewing existing sexual harassment policies and processes to ensure that they are legally compliant, please contact our Workplace and Employment team at HopgoodGanim Lawyers.