There are sweeping changes underway in the workplace with this week’s passing of the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 (the Bill) through Federal Parliament.
The Bill imposes a positive duty for employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and is a further response to the Federal Government’s commitment to implement all 55 recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) 2020 ‘Respect@Work Report’ (the report).
The Bill is significant for employment lawyers, but also for law firm principals and managers of all legal organisations, as the Federal Government implements recommendations 16-19, 23, 25 and 43 of the report.
Employers will have 12 months to prepare for the changes and ensure they have appropriate systems, policies and training in place to prevent unsafe work practices.
Specifically, under the Bill, there will be amendments to the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SD Act) and new powers for the AHRC, pursuant to proposed amendments to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) to enforce a positive duty on employers.
The Bill will:
- insert a new provision into the SD Act to expressly “prohibit conduct” that subjects another person to a hostile workplace environment on the ground of sex
- impose positive duties on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate the conduct
- operate concurrently with existing duties in model work, health and safety laws which require employers to provide safe working environments for workers, as far as reasonably practicable.
Queensland Law Society encourages members to be proactive and embrace the changes by implementing frameworks that lead to increased protection for employees from workplace sexual harassment.
It is no longer sufficient to be reactionary, and the duty to eliminate hostile work environments requires employers to prevent offensive conduct within their workplaces. This includes employee and client interactions.
QLS recommends that all legal organisations undertake training to draw awareness to understanding appropriate workplace behaviours. In this respect the Society offers in-house training aimed at preventing sexual harassment. QLS has developed an Australian-first legal industry workshop resource which helps identify inappropriate conduct, the role of bystanders, workplace culture and the reporting and management of complaints.
The Society also provides template policies and guidance for practitioners looking to update their existing processes to reflect the Bill and the enhanced obligations placed on employers.
Access the Bill and explanatory memorandum online.
QLS is committed to eradicating bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination in the legal profession and promoting workplace cultural change to ensure a healthy, sustainable workplace for all legal professionals.
Find out more about the QLS Changing Workplace Culture – Sexual Harassment workshop and QLS training to assist firms in meeting the new obligations by contacting QLSLPD@qls.com.au.
For further practice guidance on implementing the obligations under the Bill, contact the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre at email@example.com.