FWC's anti-bullying power expands to stop sexual harassment at work

Compassionate leave has also been extended under the Respect at Work Act

FWC's anti-bullying power expands to stop sexual harassment at work

Workers who believe that they’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace can now ask the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to intervene. From November 11, the FWC has the jurisdiction to allow workers who believe they’ve been harassed at work to apply for an order to stop sexual harassment. This expanded duty is part of the Respect at Work Amendment Act, which recently made changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 by expanding the anti-bullying jurisdiction of the FWC.

The act aims to ensure workers are protected and empowered to address unlawful sexual harassment in the workplace – and was originally rolled out in September. Under the new bill, sexual harassment is defined as an "unwelcome sexual advance," an "unwelcome request for sexual favours," as well as "other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to another person." The act now covers employees, contractors and staff, employees of a labour hire company, outworkers, apprentices or trainees, interns, students gaining work experience, as well as some volunteers.

Read more: FWC judge resigns over ‘biased’ system

The bill also clarified the consequences for abusers. If proven that the case is in fact tantamount to sexual harassment, and is related to employment, then it can be used as a valid reason for termination.

Miscarriage and compassionate leave

Meanwhile, compassionate leave for workers has also been expanded under the Respect at Work amendments – now including cases of miscarriage. Workers are granted up to two days of paid compassionate leave if they, their spouse, or their de facto partner experiences a miscarriage. The case is different for casual workers, however, who’ll only receive unpaid leave in such cases. Compassionate leave has also been expanded to employees who experience stillbirth or death of a child. Employees who’re in the direct family of the child are also entitled to the leave.

Speaking to HRD, Samantha Payne, CEO and co-founder of The Pink Elephants - a network dedicated to helping people through miscarriages – voiced her support of the move.

“Firstly, this law change categorises miscarriage as a bereavement which is really important to validate their loss, but then it also opens up workplaces to know that they need to do more and this is not an issue they can turn a blind eye to,” she told HRD. “One in three women in Australia will go through this and therefore every workplace needs to ensure it’s equipped with the tools to be able to support their people through it. Through our work at Pink Elephants, we’ve heard stories of women who were returning to work and hiding in bathroom stalls or presenting in boardrooms the same day as having a procedure earlier in the morning. They just weren't ready to be back in the workplace, but there was nothing [in the law] to protect them and to say they could take leave.”

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