The Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021 (Respect at Work amendments)
New Amendments to the Respect at Work Act for safeguarding employees at workplace
We know that sexual harassment is unlawful. So why do we still keep hearing these appalling stories?
The Federal government is doing its best to eradicate sexual harassment from the society. In this respect, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021 (Respect at Work amendments) was updated on 10th September 2021 with a new provision to address sexual harassment at workplace. These changes are done to protect the employees at workplace, and this also empowers the employees to address sexual harassment at work.
The Respect at Work amendments updates the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) to:
- Introduction on stop sexual harassment orders
- Defining Sexual harassment.
- Clearly stating that sexual harassment at workplace can be a valid reason for dismissal for the harasser.
- For miscarriage compassionate leave entitlements are now available.
This act expands the existing act provisions dealing with stop bullying and stop sexual harassment at workplace. An eligible employee who has been sexually harassed at work can apply to Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the sexual harassment.
In Australia, sexual harassment is legislated by the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984. States and territories provide additional anti-discrimination legislation.
Workplace relations and discrimination legislation in Australia has provisions that recognize and prohibit sexual harassment. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 provides a definition of sexual harassment and gives it the meaning of unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that a reasonable person would anticipate could possibly make the person harassed feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated.
The Australian Human Rights Commission outlines examples of sexual harassment which include:
- unwelcome touching.
- staring or leering.
- suggestive comments or jokes.
- sexually explicit pictures or posters.
- unwanted invitations to go out on dates.
- requests for sex.
- intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body.
- unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person.
- insults or taunts based on sex.
- sexually explicit physical contact, and
- sexually explicit emails or SMS text messages.
Prevention of Sexual Harassment in Workplace
Under Sex Discrimination Act a person who sexually harasses is primarily responsible for the sexual harassment. In some of the cases the employer and other management can be held responsible for acts of sexual harassment done to the employees. The act states that an employer including the union is responsible for acts of sexual harassment committed by employees unless “all reasonable steps” are taken by the employer to prevent the event.
Employers need to be aware of the legal obligations towards employees, they must comply with Commonwealth and State legislation. There is a guide for an employer as to what is acceptable in the workplace, if these criteria are not met then the employers will need to face major penalties. Employers can limit their liability if they take all reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment occurring.
Employers need to follow:
- First important step includes is to design the policies and procedures for a harassment free environment.
- It should also have the procedures to deal with allegations of discrimination made by the employees or customers.
- Finally, these policies need to be implemented via provision of ongoing training, communication, and reinforcement.
Employers need to ensure all preventive measures are taken. They need to be active and lack of awareness that the harassment was occurring is not in itself a defense for employers. Their aim is to make sure that all the employees are protected and empowered to address sexual harassment at work.
*NETCorp is not an accounting firm, HR specialist, or financial advisors and therefore we encourage you to do your on fact finding research