Sexual harassment is usually not an isolated incident, and it is rarely a situation of a misunderstanding or of innocent “appreciation”. Rather, it is frequently the product of a workplace culture that at best overlooks (and at worst enables) such conduct, which can have significant consequences for health and safety.

The Respect@Work report into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces comes at a time where these issues are receiving unprecedented (but warranted) attention. The report makes a number of recommendations that will affect how sexual harassment in the workplace is to be addressed by employers. On 8 April 2021, the Australian Government released ‘A Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces’ (Roadmap for Respect) which responds to all 55 of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s recommendations outlined in the Respect@Work report.

Summary of key changes

In response to these recommendations, the Morrison Government announced its intention to introduce a number of changes. The key changes include:

  1. Establishing the Respect@Work Council, which will be made up by government with contributions by unions, employers, and employer associations, to deliver information, education and resources for employees and employers through an online platform.
  2. Amending the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act to ensure greater alignment with model WHS laws and to make the system for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace easier for employers and workers to understand and navigate.
  3. Making clear that the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act which relate to the “vicarious liability” of employers for acts committed by their employees also includes sexual harassment committed by their employees.
  4. Amending the Fair Work Act such that sexual harassment is expressly stated as being conduct that would give rise to a “valid reason” to terminate employment under the unfair dismissal protections.

To view the full report, visit here. While the Government has agreed to (in full, in part or in principle) to the recommendations in the report to introduce legislative amendments designed to simplify and strengthen the national legal framework for combating sexual harassment at work, most of the practical changes have yet to take effect.

To assist employers in understanding the recommendations of the report, the Government’s response, and what constitutes “sexual harassment” at law, NRA Legal have designed a webinar, ‘Sexual harassment at work: key learnings for employers’, to specifically assist HR professionals, managers, in-house legal advisors and business owners.

This free, online event will take place next Thursday, 13 May 2021, from 11am-12pm AEST. To find out more information or to register, visit here.