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Industry proposes new laws to address sexual harassment in the workplace

"Today, the Australian Industry Group released its submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission's National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. The submission argues that changes are needed to Australia's laws to give more support to employers that take decisive action to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace," Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

"There is no place for sexual harassment in Australian workplaces or the broader community. Sexual harassment is detrimental to those who experience it, and detrimental to businesses.

"Australia's unfair dismissal laws have a significant influence on how businesses approach and resolve instances of sexual harassment. The regulatory framework should support employers that take their legal obligations seriously and want to do the right thing. Ai Group's submission highlights several unfair dismissal cases where employers have taken decisive and appropriate action against employees who have engaged in serious sexual harassment, yet the Fair Work Commission has decided that the dismissals were unfair. Unfair dismissal decisions of the Fair Work Commission are very inconsistent and provide employers with little confidence that a decision to remove an employee from the workplace who has sexually harassed another will not be overturned or lead to the payment of compensation.

"In the submission, a number of reforms are proposed, aimed at achieving a more effective framework for preventing and addressing sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, including the following:

  • The Fair Work Regulations 2009 should be amended to expressly include sexual harassment and associated unacceptable behaviour in the definition of "serious misconduct". The current definition is outdated, and appropriate updating is long overdue.
  • The unfair dismissal provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 should be amended to ensure that workplaces and victims of sexual harassment are better protected. Current unfair dismissal provisions unduly favour procedural technicalities over the welfare of victims and safe workplaces.
  • The definitions of sexual harassment in State anti-discrimination laws should be harmonised with the definitions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) to reduce complexity and increase understanding.
  • The general protections in the Fair Work Act should be tightened to exclude sexual harassment claims, which are already regulated through State and Federal anti-discrimination legislation.
  • The Australian Government should allocate funding for targeted community campaigns aimed at preventing sexual harassment, with a focus on the role of digital technology in communicating and interacting.
  • The Australian Government should also allocate funding to educate employers, including Small and Medium Enterprises, in effective ways to identify and address sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Innovative enterprise initiatives to reduce sexual harassment should be showcased and shared by engaging with industry groups and the leaders of relevant businesses.

"Ai Group and our members look forward to continuing to provide constructive input to the National Inquiry,” Mr Willox said.
Ai Group Submission - National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces

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