New Federal Respect@Work Bill

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Home > Blog > New Federal Respect@Work Bill

In September, the Federal Government introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 (Cth) into Parliament.

This Bill comes off the back of the 2018 National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces initiated by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins and then Minister for Women, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer and the subsequent recommendations from the inquest.  

What is the aim of the Respect @ Work Bill?

The Bill’s aim is to implement the 55 recommendations made in the Respect@Work Report formed by Kate Jenkins in 2020, which actively addresses sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation in Australian workplaces in the hope of making them safer and more equitable.

What does the Respect@Work Bill include?

Positive Duty

The Bill outlines the intention for a new provision to be inserted into the Sex Discrimination Act which puts a positive duty on all people in the organisation to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. This provision would work in line with proposed provisions in the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 which allow the Australian Human Rights Commission to monitor organisations’ adoption of, and compliance with positive duty.

Hostile work environment

The Bill includes a new clause clarifying that the purpose of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) is to eliminate behaviour which creates a hostile work environment, even if the conduct is not directed at a particular person. It reinforces that workplaces need to promote cultures in which sex discrimination and sexual harassment are not accepted.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s powers

In addition to powers to monitor, the Bill proposes that the Australian Human Rights Commission be provided with broader powers of inquiry into systemic unlawful discrimination. It is thought that the Australian Human Rights Commission is well placed to handle this work and it will keep matters out of Court, which can be expensive and re-traumatising to the victim.

It is proposed that a costs protection provision will also be introduced into the Australian Human Rights Commission Act in a similar manner to Fair Work Act proceedings to provide clarity on the cost of pursuing legal action.

Clarification about civil action

The Bill recommends that an amendment be made to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth) which clarifies that victimisation in the form of sexual harassment and sex discrimination can form the basis for civil action as well as a criminal complaint under any of the following acts:

  • Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth);
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth); and
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

Mandatory reporting requirements

It is recommended that an amendment be made to the Workplace Gender Equality Act which requires six gender equality indicators are reported against by the Commonwealth public sector to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, to enhance the data on gender inequality within Australian workplaces.

Timeframes for reporting discrimination and harassment

The timeframe for lodging a complaint under anti-discrimination law may be increased by the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission to 24 months from the current 6 months.

What can employers do to be compliant with incoming Respect@Work laws?

Although not yet law, the Bill will likely be enacted to meet the government’s election promise. Employers should ready themselves for the Bill becoming law in the following ways:

  • ensuring policies related to sexual harassment, sex discrimination and gender equality are updated, including adding clear grievance policies if they do not already exist;
  • respect@work training for all staff, with a special bespoke offering for leaders and people managers;
  • a review of the organisation’s WHS practices to identify new risks and mitigate any existing areas of risk of discrimination and harassment; and
  • a thorough review of the organisation’s culture and workplan for overhauling areas of concern.

The Bill does not cover every recommendation arising out of the inquest, so employers should also stay abreast of other recommendations and amendments on the horizon.

For more information, get in touch with our employment lawyers in Cairns today. 

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