New proposed workplace sex discrimination legislation and what businesses need to know.

The Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 was introduced to the senate at the end of June. The proposed changes to legislation come twelve months after Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkin’s released a report on sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Morrison Government published their response in the form of the Roadmap for Respect. This was released in April of this year.

The Roadmap set a blueprint for taking steps to rule out sexual harassment. While the Roadmap sees much needed and sought after changes to the Sex Discrimination Act and the Fair Work Act, it is being heavily criticised for failing to provide protection of women in the workplace.

Proposed changes to the sex discrimination legislation:

There have been three main proposed changes to the legislation that focus on sexual harassment.

  1. Protection over verbal harassment based on a person’s sex. This includes comments or actions that would “seriously demean” women.
  2. The time to report a claim has been extended from six months to two years.
  3. The sex discrimination legislation has been included to cover sexual harassment beyond employees and contractors. It will now include sub-contractors, trainees, volunteers, and work experience students.

What does this mean for businesses?

Highlighted in the Federal Government’s Roadmap, businesses failing to comply to their obligations to address sexual harassment in the workplace, will face hefty legalities.

Employers should ensure they are providing a safe workplace for their employees; this can be implemented by:

  • Reviewing and reflecting on workplace culture.
  • Reviewing workplace policies

Providing regular training for employees and managers around sex discrimination in the workplace. A key component in tackling sexual harassment in the workplace, is understanding what kind of behaviour contributes as sexual harassment.

It is important to keep the conversation open around sexual harassment in the workplace. The proposed changes to the Sex Discrimination Legislation, however, are limited to solely protecting harassment in the workplace. This does not extend to hours outside of work, but it is a starting point.

Under the proposed legislation, if employees don’t speak up against sexual harassment, they can be held accountable as an accessory.

The roadmap states that “it is far better to prevent the harm of sexual harassment and so we recognise that need for education and training resources to equip present and future employees with the tools to create a positive workplace culture.”

The legislation may fail to fully protect against sex-based harassment; however, each workplace can do their bit to protect their staff the best that they can.