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5 December 20222 minute read

Respect@Work Bill to become law

The much anticipated Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 (Respect@Work Bill) has now passed Parliament.

New obligations for employers to be aware of include:

  • a prohibition on conduct creating a ‘hostile’ workplace environment on the basis of sex (i.e displaying obscene or pornographic materials, sexual banter, or making offensive jokes);
  • a positive duty on employers to actively take steps to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and victimisation at work;
  • empowering the Australian Human Rights Commission to enforce compliance with the positive duty and inquire into systemic discrimination.
  • The central pillar of the Respect@Work Bill is the introduction of a new positive duty for employers to take “reasonable and proportionate measures” to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation, as far as possible.

    What are considered “reasonable and proportionate” measures will of course vary between employers and depend on an employer’s circumstances, including:

    • size and nature of the business;
    • resources available; and
    • practicability and costs associated with the steps.

    Compliance with this positive duty will involve taking active steps to eliminate these behaviours such as:

    • implementing revamped policies and procedures;
    • collecting and monitoring data;
    • addressing incidents and ensuring appropriate consequences for misconduct;
    • providing appropriate support to workers; and
    • delivering training and education on a regular basis.

    The recent release of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Time for Respect Report has revealed that sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, and in particular, certain industries such as retail, hospitality and arts and recreation, remains high. The Respect@Work Bill serves as a timely reminder that further action is needed to eradicate sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination in Australian workplaces.

    Next steps

    Although, the changes under the Respect@Work Bill are yet to come into force (with Royal Assent expected shortly), employers should consider pre-emptively reviewing their current employment practices and policies to ensure compliance with the new changes. The positive duty obligation will commence 12 months after Royal Assent, providing employers time to comply.

    Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team who would be more than happy to discuss the new laws, and ways to prepare your business to meet these obligations.