Employers legally responsible for preventing sexual harassment at work

The Australian Human Rights Commission is now legally empowered to enforce rules to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
By: | December 13, 2023

New laws in Australia, which will go into effect this week,  will place the legal onus on employers to take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Australian Human Rights Commission will now be able to investigate organisations and employers on whether proactive steps are being taken place to make workplaces safer.

These new measures, which passed into law last year, were one of the recommendations of the landmark Respect@Work report, passed down by Kate Jenkins, the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner. Mark Dreyfus, Attorney-General, said that the changes will seek to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace, rather than having workplaces to react to it taking place.

“This shifts the responsibility away from individual employees enforcing their right to a safe and inclusive workplace, to employers to ensure the workplace is safe and inclusive for all employees,” he said. “All workplaces should be safe, inclusive and free from harassment, discrimination and other unlawful behaviours.”

The Human Rights Commission will now have the power to regulate the way organisations that may not be meeting obligations to prevent sexual harassment. The commission will also be able to issue compliance notices or make court applications to force businesses that have failed to meet the criteria to comply.

This new move comes as the latest national survey on sexual harassment found that one-third of people employed in the past five years had experienced sexual harassment at work, reported The Senior.

READ MORE: Workplaces in Australia urged to prioritise wellbeing

The commission would be given AU$5.8 million (US$3.82 million) over four years to carry out the enforcement work, said Dreyfus, concluding, “The new role of the Australian Human Rights Commission will be a positive step towards ensuring safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces for all employees.”