Are you aware of the ongoing changes being introduced to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination within the workplace? On the 27th of September 2022, a new bill was introduced and is pending review by Federal Parliament in response to the ongoing Respect@Work Report efforts. The proposed changes will see businesses take a proactive approach towards the prevention of sexual harassment, discrimination, and victimisation (opposed to responding after incidents have occurred), with an increase to the Australian Human Rights Commission authority to investigate and to impose offences and mandate action for hostile and non-compliant workplaces.
The proposed bill is yet to be approved by both Houses of Parliament and the following may not reflect the exhaustive list of changes, however it is advised that you take the time to familiarise yourself with the suggested changes:
- New Positive Duty on Employers – Employers need to go beyond efforts of updated policy and training to adhere with the proposed legislation, as it defines that all employers must take, ‘all reasonable and proportionate measures’ to eliminate sexual harassment, discrimination, and victimisation within the workplace.
- Australian Human Rights Commission Authority – The AHRC will be given the authority to audit employer compliance of, ‘positive duty’ requirements, with the capacity to conduct inquiries, issue compliance notices and to elect enforceable undertakings. It will be at the discretion of the AHRC as to whom they conduct investigations, with the authority to inquire into suspected systematic unlawful behaviour. Employers will need to cooperate with the AHRC, providing information, documents and opportunity to examine witnesses upon request.
- ‘Grounds of sex’ an offence – Exposure to sexually charged or hostile working environments will be found as discrimination or harassment on the ‘grounds of sex’, as such exposure can be interpreted as unwelcoming or offensive. For example, sexualised innuendo, posters, or displays in the workplace.
- Increased Union capacity to make claims – Unions will receive new rights, with the ability to initiate complaints on behalf of employees to Federal Courts, opposed to current ability to only approach AHRC with such.
- Court costing protections – Each party within a discrimination court case is required to carry their own costs of legal proceedings, however it will now be at the discretion of the court to direct costings where they consider it ‘just’.
- Complaints – To align with the Sex, Age, Disability, and Radical Discrimination Acts, a complaint will only be terminated by the AHRC if the conduct within the complaint relates to such that occurred 24 months before the date the complaint was made.
If these anticipated changes raise any cause for concern in relation to your business, then now is the time to start thinking about HOW you can modify the environment, as legislation moves to mandate ‘best practice’ from all employers, not just ‘compliance’. If you need some guidance to create a positive workplace environment, contact us at Assurance HR Management on 1800 577 515, and we will work with you to develop prevention plans and to build employee knowledge and awareness around discrimination and harassment, applicable policies, and workplace expectations and obligations.