Today the Australian Human Rights Commission’s new power commences to investigate and enforce compliance of the positive duty on organisations and businesses to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.
Last year the Albanese Government passed legislation to establish a new positive duty for employers and businesses. This means employers have a legal obligation to take proactive and meaningful action to prevent sexual harassment and other unlawful behaviour in the workplace and in connection with work.
The positive duty enacts a key recommendation of the Respect@Work report and aims to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, rather than reacting after unlawful conduct occurs. 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.
The Australian Human Rights Commission now has regulatory powers to inquire into organisations and businesses that may not be compliant with the positive duty. The Commission’s primary focus will be to support employers to comply with the positive duty. The aim is to achieve meaningful cultural change to create safer, inclusive, and more respectful workplaces.
The Commission has resources to assist employers with the changes, which can be found here. Where necessary, the Commission also has a suite of compliance tools which will require employers to comply with the positive duty, including the ability to issue compliance notices and accept enforceable undertakings.
The Government funded the Commission to take on this function with $5.8 million over 4 years from 2022–23 and $1.8 million per year ongoing.
All workplaces should be safe, inclusive and free from harassment, discrimination, and other unlawful behaviours. The new role of the Australian Human Rights Commission will be a positive step towards ensuring safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces for all employees.
The fifth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces found that 33 per cent of people who had been in the workforce in the preceding five years had experienced workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a serious and pervasive issue, and the Respect@Work report represents a major shift in how public policy and the legislative framework support people who experience sexual harassment and discrimination.
Last month, the Albanese Government introduced the Australian Human Rights Commission Amendment (Costs Protection) Bill 2023 which represents the final legislative reform required to fulfil the Albanese Government's commitment to implement all recommendations of the Respect@Work report.