Following recent amendments to the law, workplace sexual harassment is prohibited from 6 March 2023.

What are an employer’s legal responsibilities to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?

The Fair Work Act now prohibits sexual harassment in connection with work, which includes harassment in the workplace.  This protection will apply to:

  • workers
  • employees
  • contractors
  • work experience students
  • volunteers
  • future workers
  • anyone conducting a business or undertaking.

A person or a company will be liable for sexual harassment committed by an employee or agent in connection with work, unless the employer can prove that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment.

These changes to the law place greater obligations upon an employer to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur in the workplace.

These recent changes are in addition to other amendments to the law which came into effect late last year.

From 13 December 2022, Australian law:

  • imposes a positive legal duty on employers
  • to take reasonable and proportionate measures
  • to eliminate sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, in the workplace as far as possible.

This legal duty on employers extends to eliminating sexual harassment by third parties such as clients.

How can an employer minimise its risks?

There are a number of positive steps which an employer can take.

These may include:

  • Ensuring the employer has a clear workplace policy that prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and creates a safe process in which any allegations of harassment can be properly addressed
  • Ensuring that any sexual harassment policy is easily available and accessible by all staff
  • Ensuring that policies are kept updated with any changes to the law
  • Comprehensive training for all new employees around the policy, and regular “refreshers” and ongoing training for all staff
  • Ensuring that the organisation has a respectful and safe workplace culture – policies need to be applied consistently and fairly at all levels within the organisation
  • Considering whether a sexual harassment officer should be appointed
  • Consider offering an employee assistance program

If you or your business have any questions regarding these recent changes to the law, or if you require any assistance with policies or training, please let us know.  We would be happy to assist.