Respect at Work Legislative Changes

Written by: Institute of Certified Bookkeepers

Everyone has the right to a workplace that is safe and free from sexual harassment. Employers have an obligation to manage the health and safety risks of workplace sexual harassment.

On 10th September 2021, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021 (Respect at Work amendments) took effect.

The Respect at Work Act has introduced changes to 3 separate pieces of existing legislation and as stated in the Respect at Work Act’s explanatory memorandum, aims to “ensure that more workers, particularly vulnerable workers, are protected and empowered to address unlawful conduct.” In addition, miscarriage leave has been introduced for the first time, through an expansion of the entitlement to compassionate leave.

The changes to the Fair Work Act aim to:

  • Protect and empower workers to address sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Include miscarriage as a reason to access compassionate leave.

They include:

  • Introducing stop sexual harassment orders.
  • Defining sexual harassment.
  • Clarifying that sexual harassment at work can be a valid reason for dismissal.
  • Providing compassionate leave for miscarriage.

For more information see: FWO – Sexual harassment in the workplace

Advice for Small Business Owners

Advice to small business employers is that they need to have policies in place which allow them to effectively respond to sexual harassment. A workplace policy dealing with sexual harassment is one of the most important policies for an employer to have in place. Primarily it is a useful method to communicate to employees matters such as:

  • The sort of conduct that constitutes sexual harassment.
  • That this conduct will not be tolerated in the workplace.
  • That this conduct is against the law, for which both employee and the employer can be liable.
  • How employees can report any such conduct that occurs.
  • The support that will be offered to victims of sexual harassment.

It is also necessary to have such a policy in place for an employer to seek to avoid liability for any sexual harassment that occurs in its workplace. Employers will be liable for the actions of an employee who engages in sexual harassment, unless they can show that they took all reasonable steps they could to prevent this from occurring.

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