A code of practice for managing psychosocial hazards is also on the way
Employers across the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are now required to report all incidents of sexual assault to WorkSafe ACT, thanks to a new law passed in the Legislative Assembly this week. Mick Gentleman, minister for industrial relations and workplace safety, said the law bridges the legislation gap where employers are only mandated to report sexual assault incidents in cases of hospital admission or medical treatment.
"This should not be the case. Every employee in every business operating in the ACT is now protected by our new law. It means that employers must formally notify WorkSafe ACT as soon as they become aware of a sexual assault incident in their workplace," Gentleman said in a statement.
The new law is the government's latest step in stamping out psychosocial hazards in workplaces, Gentleman said.
"The ACT government is working on broader reforms to address the impacts of psychological illnesses and injuries at work. This will include a code of practice for managing psychosocial hazards in the workplace, which we're aiming to introduce next year," he said.
In addition to the law on reporting sexual assault, Gentleman said other reforms passed in the Legislative Assembly include a ban on businesses insuring against their liability for work health and safety fines and penalties, as well as clarifications for management about safety responsibilities.
"We are committed to making the ACT to be the safest place to work in Australia," Gentleman said.
Sexual harassment in Australia
In 2020, a survey of 10,000 Australian employees found that sexual harassment "occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level, in Australian workplaces."
"Australians, across the country, are suffering the financial, social, emotional, physical and psychological harm associated with sexual harassment. This is particularly so for women," the survey, known as the Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report, said. It also made 55 recommendations to governments, the private sector, and the community to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces.
To show its commitment in implementing the recommendations from the report, the government introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022, which aims to "strengthen the legal and regulatory frameworks relating to sexual harassment in Australia" and expand the role of the Australian Human Rights Commission in prevent sexual harassment.
Preventing sexual harassment
Of course, there's no better way to address incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace than preventing them before they even happen.
"Don't wait for a crisis, act now," said Isabella Zamorano, lead trainer and former senior employment relations adviser at Employsure. According to Zamorano, employers can take the following measures to ensure that sexual harassment doesn't happen in their workplaces:
- Enforce zero tolerance. Develop a zero-tolerance approach on sexual harassment in the company policies and procedures, and then articulate it to all existing and current employees.
- Train your staff. Zamorano said training will help employees retain information and speak up to report incidents. Employers should also provide a safe and confidential channel where employees can make complaints.
- Investigate all claims. All claims of sexual harassment should be investigated, even if they happened outside of work hours and the workplace. According to Zamorano, it is up to the victim whether they consider an incident as a form of sexual harassment, and employers should look into them even if they find the accusations personally offensive.
Victims of sexual harassment, as well as those feel they may have been sexually harassed, may seek assistance from the following hotlines:
- 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)
- Lifeline (13 11 14)