Recently, the Federal Government tabled the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 (the Bill), which seeks to impose greater obligations on employers to ensure their workplaces are free from discrimination and sexual harassment. In particular, the proposed new laws require employers to be far more proactive in preventing and addressing such conduct in their workplace.
Summary of Key Changes
The following sets out a summary of the key changes proposed to be introduced:
- Hostile workplaces will be unlawful: The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SD Act) will be amended to make it unlawful for employers to create or facilitate an intimidating or hostile working environment based on sex.
- Positive duty on employers: The SD Act will be amended to introduce a positive duty for all employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and victimisation as far as possible.
- AHRC enforcement powers: The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will be granted additional powers to assess compliance with the above positive duty and for enforcement, including the power to inquire into systemic unlawful sexual harassment.
- Unions to bring claims to the Federal Courts: Unions and other representative groups will have the power to commence proceedings on behalf of members who experience sexual discrimination in the AHRC and the Federal Courts.
The above changes are consistent with the new health and safety regulations and codes that are currently being introduced around the country to reduce the risk of psychosocial hazards in the workplace. These regulations and codes require employers to identify any psychosocial hazards in their workplace (including bullying and sexual harassment) and take steps to eliminate the risks associated with them as far as practicable.
Implications for Employers
In light of the above, employers should commence taking steps to identify the risks of unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimisation in their workplace and implement measures to eliminate those risks so far as practicable. This should be done in consultation with employees. At a minimum, employers should review their current workplace policies regarding discrimination, harassment, and victimisation to reflect the new laws as well as arrange regular staff training to ensure they understand their obligations. Employers should also conduct broader reviews to ensure they will comply with the new laws, such as reviewing the gender balance of their workforce and remuneration model to ensure their recruitment, promotion, and pay structures are not discriminatory.
For further information regarding the above, please contact the author or any member of our Employment, Workplace Relations & Safety team.
This information and the contents of this publication, current as at the date of publication, is general in nature to offer assistance to Cornwalls’ clients, prospective clients and stakeholders, and is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal or financial advice. If you are concerned about any topic covered, we recommend that you seek your own specific legal and financial advice before taking any action.