Respect@Work bill passes Parliament

Employers told to start making changes ahead of implementation

Respect@Work bill passes Parliament

Australia's Parliament has passed a new legislation that underscores the responsibilities of employers in preventing sexual harassment in their workplaces.

The Respect@Work Bill was initially introduced by the Albanese government to enact the recommendations of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in her landmark report published in March 2020.

Under the new law, employers have a "positive duty" to take measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and victimisation in the workplace.

The Albanese government said in a media release that the "historic" legislation "significantly progresses gender equality by ensuring women are able to earn a living in safe, sexual harassment-free workplaces."

It’s a historic day, tweeted Susan Price, Sydney-based lawyer, “and a giant step towards eliminating sexual harassment and achieving gender equality.”

While there’s always “room for further tweaking on aspects like costs,” she said, it’s “a quantum leap forward for women… [and] contains so many significant improvements.”

The government is acting to make workplaces safe from sexual harassment, tweeted Mark Dreyfus, federal attorney-general.

“This historic legislation significantly progresses gender equality by ensuring women are able to earn a living in safe workplaces.”

New functions

The new law also gives the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) new functions to assess and enforce the compliance of workplaces in eliminating harassment, discrimination, and victimisation. It also gives the commission the power to issue compliance notices to employers not meeting their duties.

The new law also prohibits conduct that leads to a "hostile workplace environment on the basis of sex," as well as mandates Commonwealth public sector organisations to report their gender equality indicators to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

There will be a 12-month transition period before the law takes effect, according to the AHRC.

Employers urged to start complying

Employers are being encouraged to start making necessary changes in the workplace ahead of the law's implementation.

"Although there will be a 12-month transition period before the duty becomes enforceable, I urge all workplaces to implement change now, so that people may enjoy safer workplaces, free from sexual harassment, sooner," Jenkins said in a statement.

"These important reforms are timely and should be considered by state and territory governments to achieve greater harmonisation of sexual harassment legislation as part of any upcoming legislative reviews."

The AHRC said the passing of the Respect@Work Bill in Parliament is a "milestone" in addressing workplace sexual harassment in Australia.

The commission, together with the Respect@Work Council, previously launched a website to provide employers with free resources, such as good-practice guides, training materials, workplace-assessment tools, information, videos, and guidance, related to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

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