Articles > Employment

What Australia’s new sexual harassment policies mean for your workplace

June 13, 2023   Philip Evangelou

Following recommendations provided in the 2020 Respect@Work report produced by the Australian Human Rights Commission, there are new policies regarding sexual harassment and discrimination within the workplace to be implemented from the 6th of March 2023. These seek to amend the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and include a prohibition on, and protection against, sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Who does this apply to ? 

These new changes apply to all types of workers ranging from employees, contractors, subcontractors, volunteers, potential employees and any third parties such as clients and customers.

These rules make it unlawful for sexual harassment to occur towards another worker, a potential worker or a person who conducts business with the employer. 

What does this mean for businesses ?

A business operator or employer has a positive duty to undertake “reasonable and proportionate measures” to eliminate unlawful sexual discrimination, as far as possible.

Ensure that you are taking all reasonable steps to prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment in your workplace. Workplaces can follow these measures (amongst others):

  • Maintain a safe working environment in both online and physical mediums 
  • Update existing policies and procedures surrounding sexual harassment and put measures in place to enforce them 
  • Ensure the prevention of sexual harassment by assessing risk factors and effectively mitigating them 
  • Organizing and conducting training sessions regularly to increase educational awareness 
  • Providing a supportive and appropriately adapted complaint framework for all workers 
  • Developing an environment where workers feel safe to speak up and call out anything they deem concerning in the workplace. 

Possible Penalties

Allegations of sexual harassment can be made by a person or a group of peoples. They can also be made by industrial associations such as unions and the Fair Work Ombudsman towards a perpetrator of sexual harassment and any business employer who does not appropriately safeguard their work from the risk of sexual harassment. 

The type of applications that can be made by an alleged harassed worker are those to obtain  compensation, financial penalty and other orders against perpetrators of sexual harassment. As an employer, you will be vicariously liable for the contravening conduct unless you have taken reasonable steps to prevent it from happening. 

For more information about other key amendments from the Respect@Work Bill visit our article – An important milestone: The Respect@Work Bill

The next step?

Our team of senior commercial lawyers can help you ensure you fulfil your obligations under these new amendments. If you need help with drafting or reviewing your workplace policies, please do not hesitate to contact us today on 1300 337 997, or fill in the form below!

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.