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An anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022, was introduced by the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus in Parliament this week.

The Bill seeks to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to deliver on key recommendations called for in the Respecy@Work report.

Over the past five years, one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work, with women experiencing higher rates of harassment than men.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with a disability and members of the LGBTQ+ community are also, on average, more likely to experience workplace sexual harassment.

Key legislative changes in the Bill include:

  • Place a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation, as far as possible;
  • Strengthen the Australian Human Rights Commission with new functions to assess and enforce compliance with this new requirement, including the capacity to give compliance notices to employers who are not meeting their obligations;
  • Expressly prohibit conduct that results in a hostile workplace environment on the basis of sex; and
  • Ensure Commonwealth public sector organisations are also required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on its gender equality indicators.

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who led the development of the Respect@Work Inquiry and report, said that the right of workers to be free from sexual harassment is a human right, a workplace right and a safety right.

“This legislative reform will create a regulatory environment in Australia that is key to the realisation of that right for all Australian workers.”

Commissioner Jenkins said the centrepiece of the Bill is the introduction of a positive duty to prevent sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

“We concluded in Respect@Work that a positive duty shifts the burden from individuals making complaints to employers taking proactive and preventative action. As the positive duty is an ongoing duty, it shifts the emphasis from a complaints-based model to one where employers must continuously assess and evaluate whether they are meeting the requirements of the duty.  

“These important reforms are timely and should be considered by state and territory governments to achieve greater harmonisation of sexual harassment legislation as part of any upcoming legislative reviews, consistent with our recommendation in our Respect@Work report.

“In addition to the critical focus on prevention and cultural change that will be brought about by a positive duty, increased clarity and consistency in the operation of sexual harassment laws —including across federal, state and territory anti-discrimination legislation — will help make the complaints process more accessible for individuals.”

The Government expects that the Bill will be referred to a Senate Committee for Inquiry.