Government introduces Bill to tackle sexual harassment at work

Monday, 10 October, 2022

Government introduces Bill to tackle sexual harassment at work

The federal government has introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022, delivering on an election commitment to end sexual harassment at work. The Bill will implement seven legislative changes recommended by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, left unfinished by the former government.

The Bill will place a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. It also aims to strengthen the Australian Human Rights Commission with new functions to assess and enforce compliance with this new requirement, including the capacity to give compliance notices to employers who are not meeting their obligations. The Bill will also expressly prohibit conduct that results in a hostile workplace environment on the basis of sex and ensures Commonwealth public sector organisations are also required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on its gender equality indicators.

Over the past five years, one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work, with women experiencing higher rates of harassment than men. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with a disability and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are also, on average, more likely to experience workplace sexual harassment. In a statement, the Attorney-General, Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP, said that everyone has the right to a safe and respectful workplace, adding that the fact that workplaces have not been safe or respectful for so many Australians is unacceptable. Dreyfus said that this Bill will move Australia forward in its efforts to prevent workplace sexual harassment from happening in the first place.

The federal government aims to implement all of the recommendations of the Respect@Work Report as a matter of priority. The Bill is also part of its work to progress gender equality, recognising that achieving women’s economic quality includes making sure women are safe at work. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Hon Tony Burke MP, is separately progressing the inclusion of a prohibition on sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The government expects that the Bill will be referred to a Senate Committee for inquiry. The government will then engage through the Attorney-General’s Department with that parliamentary process.

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