Employment laws will be amended to define workplace sexual harassment as “serious misconduct”, with the Federal Government agreeing wholly or partly to all 55 recommendations of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report.
Last year, Jenkins released the Respect@Work report following a landmark national inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The report found the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australia to be “endemic” – Jenkins warned that Australia’s legal and regulatory systems lagged heavily behind other countries when it came to tackling harassment.
Jenkins conservatively estimated the cost to the economy at $3.5 billion dollars per year and made 55 recommendations to comprehensively reform how Australia responds to and prevents sexual harassment.
In his response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government, along with states and territories, employers, and industry groups all had an important role to play in supporting cultural change and creating safe workplaces.
“It is not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, it denies Australians, especially women, their personal security and their economic security by not being safe at work,” the Prime Minister said.
“Our response is based on the Government’s values of respect, dignity, choice, equality of opportunity and justice.”
Some of the key recommendations from Jenkin’s report include:
- Amend the Sex Discrimination Act to include a positive duty requiring employers, with the possible exception of micro-businesses, to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation, as far as possible.
- Amend the model WHS Regulation to deal with psychological health, as recommended by the Boland Review, and develop guidelines on sexual harassment, with a view to informing the development of a Code of Practice.
- Amend the definition of ‘serious misconduct’ in the Fair Work Regulations to include sexual harassment.
- Introduce a ‘stop sexual harassment order’ equivalent to the ‘stop bullying order’ into the Fair Work Act.
In its response report, the federal government commits to a number of measures and reforms, but notes that Safe Work Australia has already released national guidance material on preventing work-related sexual harassment, and is currently developing a WHS Code of Practice on managing psychosocial risks, which will cover sexual harassment in the workplace.
Morrison said action had already commenced on:
- developing the Respect@Work website as an online platform to provide free, practical information and education resources for employers and workers
- developing a package of training and education resources on the nature, drivers and impacts of sexual harassment as well as the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers
- preparing for the fifth National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australian workplaces
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