Significant changes to workplace laws on harassment and discrimination

Aug 9, 2021

Two national laws that operate in the workplace to protect employees are set to be updated.

The Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, which is expected to be passed this month will amend both the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

The Respect at Work Bill was introduced following the Government’s agreement to implement a number of recommendations from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s [email protected] Report, published in March 2020.

The Respect at Work Bill is aimed at addressing and preventing sexual assault, harassment and discrimination in the workplace and making permanent changes to workplace culture to acknowledge what can sometimes be differing workplace experiences across the sexes.

Once the Bill is passed, sexual harassment will be classified as conduct that can amount to a valid reason for dismissing an employee, and will become a factor in determining whether a dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

The Fair Work Regulations will also be updated to include sexual harassment in the definition of ‘serious misconduct’.

The Sexual Discrimination Act which already prohibits ‘sexual harassment’ will now also prohibit ‘harassment on the ground of sex’, namely harassment on the basis of a person’s gender, that is not necessarily sexual in nature.

The Fair Work Act will be amended to entitle an employee to take two days paid compassionate leave if an employee or their partner suffers a miscarriage.

For employers, this is a good time to review your current employment contracts, workplace policies and guidelines and consider whether they will need updating in light of the proposed changes to ensure that your employees are protected and that your policies reflect the current position at law.