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Yesterday the Federal Government introduced a bill into Parliament, implementing an additional seven recommendations from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work Report.

The report was released in March 2020 following the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. Among its 55 recommendations, the report recommended the implementation of a positive duty on all employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment, victimisation and discrimination based on sex. The Labor Government previously committed to implement all 55 of the Report’s recommendations as a matter of priority.

If the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 is passed by Parliament (which appears likely), employers will be required to prevent sexual harassment and sex discrimination within their organisation by taking positive steps to eliminate or mitigate underlying factors which contribute to this behaviour.

What does the new legislation mean for businesses?

Under the proposed legislation, the Australian Human Rights Commission would have the power to:

  • Conduct inquiries into compliance;
  • Make recommendations to prevent a repetition or continuation of the failure to comply;
  • Issue compliance notices to organisations outlining actions to address non-compliance; and
  • Apply to the Court to enforce compliance.

The legislation will look beyond remedies to misconduct and shift the responsibility to employers to act proactively rather than reactively. The legislation will:

  • expressly prohibit conduct that creates a hostile work environment on the basis of sex;
  • require the federal public sector to report its performance on gender equality; and
  • include achieving substantive equality between men and women as an object of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

A joint statement from Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Minister for Women Katy Gallagher and Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Burke stated that “sexual harassment is by no means inevitable and the passage of this bill will move Australia forward in our efforts to prevent workplace sexual harassment from happening in the first place”.

Employers’ obligations

In the leadup to the changes, employers should ensure they have up-to-date policies, procedures and training practices to proactively prevent and address sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace.

If you would like more information about the legal implications of the proposed changes and how they may affect your business, you can contact our experienced Employment and Workplace Law team for assistance.

This article was contributed to by Solicitor, Maida Mujkic.