In 2018, the Federal Government commissioned a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces to provide recommendations to increase protections against workplace sexual harassment. The Inquiry was led by Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and the Respect@Work report was released on 5 March 2020.
Disappointingly, the Federal Government has taken over 12 months to respond to the Respect@Work report and while it has supported a number of the report’s recommendations, its response fails to deliver:
- Stronger work health and safety laws to make sure that employers are obliged to tackle the underlying causes of sexual harassment at work.
- Better access to justice for workers in workplace laws by prohibiting sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act, providing a quick and easy complaints process, and by providing 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave as a national minimum employment standard.
- Stronger powers for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to make decisions on which industries and workplaces to investigate and positive duties on employers to eliminate sexual harassment.
- Ratification of the 2019 ILO Convention on the elimination of violence and harassment at work.
Changes the Federal Government has supported include:
- amending the Sex Discrimination Act to expressly prohibit sex-based harassment;
- amending the Fair Work Act to clarify that sexual harassment can provide a valid reason for dismissal;
- changing the Fair Work Regulations to include sexual harassment within the definition of "serious misconduct" and allowing employees to be fired for sexual harassment;
- amending the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to make explicit any conduct that is an offence under the Sex Discrimination Act can form the basis of a civil action for unlawful discrimination;
- enabling stop-harassment orders through the existing anti-bullying jurisdiction;
- extending the scope for workplace sexual harassment complaints from six months to two years;
- developing jointly funded programs between Commonwealth and state governments for psychosocial support for people affected by workplace sexual harassment;
- providing additional funding in the 2021-22 budget to three support services including community legal centres, Working Women’s Centres and the 1800RESPECT hotline; and
- developing educational programs for primary, higher and tertiary education students.
Professionals Australia is forming a Gender and Diversity Network to address issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination at work. To register your interest in joining the network, please click here.