Sexual Harassment Legislative Changes and a Holistic Approach to Prevent Sexual Harassment
Greg Arnold – Director, Principal Consultant
15th September 2021
Sexual harassment is an issue that sadly affects many people in the workplace – often it is a problem that may be difficult to handle from an employer’s standpoint but not impossible to tackle. It is therefore important employers foster a culture that positively supports victims and witnesses to speak up.
At the beginning of this month the Federal Government made legislative changes, with the introduction of the new Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021.
This new legislation made the following important changes:
- inserts a new provision in the SD Act to make it expressly clear that sexual harassment is unlawful;
- the introduction of the stop sexual harassment orders (FWC);
- sexual harassment can be a valid reason for dismissal under the Fair Work Act;
- Fair Work Regulations now specifically prescribes sexual harassment as serious and wilful misconduct;
- Timeframe for claims under the Sexual Discrimination Act is extended from 6 months to 2 years.
These changes arose out of the Government’s the ‘Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces’ (the Roadmap) developed in April this year and was in response to the Respect@Work Report released last year by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.
Anecdotally there still exists a rising occurrence of harassment at work, with many organisations still currently taking a traditional approach that is driven by responding to formal harassment complaints. However, given that roughly only 17% of victims ever make a report, this approach is considered ineffective in preventing harassment occurring.
There is therefore a need for employers to adopt a proactive and holistic approach to ensure a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace for all staff. In the fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces in 2018 conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner it was reported that one in three people have experienced sexual harassment at work in the last five years.
Prevention is first and foremost the issue to be tackled in organisations and often starts with initial awareness and then constant reinforcement of policies and values to foster a workplace that is healthy and safe.
To develop a respectful culture, employers should seek to bring their values to the fore. Employers should therefore rely on the principles of change management to assist in driving cultural change at these three levels, on the basis of a “top down” approach:
- Individual level
At an individual level, this should include training of each individual, particularly those who hold senior positions of responsibility, to ensure they demonstrate and live the organisational values that allow them to lead by example. Moreover, they heavily contribute to the workplace culture and in doing so, show respectful behaviour to create an inclusive culture.
- Team level
At the team level there should be regular and on-going training to clearly outline what constitutes harassment and to discredit the many myths surrounding sexual harassment. It is also important that teams know how to respond appropriately if they experience or observe harassment. At this level, continuous reinforcement is necessary as people in teams change. As the organisation progresses everyone should be aligned with its values.
- Organisational level
Employers should ensure that there are effective mechanisms to support victims and bystanders to speak up that are freely available and accessible to all. At this level, policies need to be developed, monitored, reported on and constantly re-evaluated. This is to ensure that policies are compliant and being upheld throughout the entire organisation. The training referred to in levels 1 and 2 should also pay particular attention to the organisations policies.
If you would like assistance with the introduction of this approach, or indeed you would like further information on ensuring that you are compliant with new legislative changes, please do not hesitate to contact us at Effective Workplace Solutions.