The Guardian: Australian Human Rights Commission to crack down on employers who fail to actively prevent workplace sexual harassment

As of 12 December 2023, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will be handed enforcement powers as part of the Respect@Work legislation. The new section 47C of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) applies a positive duty to any person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) or ‘employer’..

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Dr Anna Cody, hopes to shift the burden of progress in workplaces by holding employers legally responsible for failing to protect employees. The positive duty requires employers to take ‘reasonable and proportionate’ measures to eliminate sexual harassment, discrimination, and victimisation. This includes unlawful conduct engaged in by themselves, employees, workers and agents, and even extends to third parties such as customers and clients.

Research conducted by the AHRC found that less than 20% of individuals made complaints about their experiences in workplace sexual harassment, a “woefully low percentage’. The AHRC can now assess complaints and take appropriate action if employers are found to be failing in their duties, including issuing compliance notices and taking companies to the Federal Court. Complaints can be made via the Commissions online portal and the government will hand $5.8m over four years and $1.8m annually to the Commission for taking on a regulatory function. The focus will be on educating employees and employers directly to achieve voluntary compliance.

Positive duty was one of 55 recommendations made by Cody’s predecessor Kate Jenkins in the Respect@Work Report in 2020. This is a change requiring significant regulation. Cody says the Commission will oversee “in the same way that we think about how any behaviour is changed where it’s entrenched”.

NSW CCL strongly supports these affirmative actions that stamp out sexual harassment and workplace discrimination and further protect employees from victimisation. These are amendments that will better hold employers to account for failing to protect their employees.

Everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace and it's good that the Commission has this issue firmly on their radar.

Read more here.