The Australian Senate is expected to tackle newly proposed changes to the Fair Work Act and Sex Discrimination Act to directly address bullying and sex discrimination in the workplace.
The proposals under debate are collectively known as the Respect at Work Bill, which aims to enforce six out of the 55 recommendations published in a 2018 national enquiry into workplace behaviour in Australia.
Findings of the report showed that sexual harassment and discrimination remain widespread across workplaces in Australia, and that there are numerous gaps in the country’s legal frameworks against misconduct. The Respect at Work Bill, however, enables employers and their staff to take concrete steps against harassment and discrimination.
“The Bill is intended to strengthen and simplify the legislative frameworks that protect workers from sex discrimination in the workplace,” write Ruth Rosedale and Andrew McLeod, Australia-based employment lawyers from King & Wood Mallesons.
What the changes mean for employers
The proposed amendment further clarifies the definition of ‘sexual harassment’ in the Fair Work Act. The proposal views harassment in this context as unwelcome behaviour that is not only sexual in nature but also intended to humiliate, intimidate or offend the person at the receiving end of the action. Meanwhile, a new provision in the Sex Discrimination Act aims to “[make] it expressly clear that it is unlawful to sexually harass, or harass, on the grounds of sex”.
Workplace sexual harassment can also now be considered a “valid reason for dismissal,” the Bill proposes.
Another recommended change in the Fair Work Act seeks to empower the Fair Work Commission to issue ‘stop orders’ if an employee complains they are being harassed at work.
“The Bill would amend the existing anti-bullying jurisdiction in the [Fair Work Act] to clarify that the Fair Work Commission can make an order to stop sexual harassment in the workplace,” Rosedale and McLeod said.
However, unlike the current anti-bullying measures, “there is no requirement for a worker to establish a risk to health and safety on the basis that sexual harassment is a known and accepted work health and safety risk,” they said.