INSIGHT

Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct inquiry into workplace sexual harassment

By Simon Dewberry
Employment & Safety Human rights obligations Industrials Risk & Compliance Superannuation

In brief

Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, announced on 20 June 2018 that the Australian Human Rights Commission would conduct the world's first national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Senior Associate Tegan Ayling and Law Graduate Millie Grant report.

How does it affect you?

  • Workplace sexual harassment occurs across all industries, and reports have been increasing in recent times. Employers must take all reasonable steps to prevent this behaviour from occurring in the workplace, or risk facing liability for the actions of employees.
  • Employers who want to take part in the inquiry are able to make a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) about their experiences and views relating to workplace sexual harassment.

Inquiry

The inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is expected to take 12 months. It will consider the results of a national survey into the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment, which are expected to be released in August. It will also consider, among other things:

  • the use of technology and social media to perpetrate workplace related sexual harassment and sex-based harassment and to identify alleged victims and perpetrators;
  • the drivers of sexual harassment, including common characteristics and risk factors;
  • current sexual harassment laws and complaints to anti-discrimination agencies; and
  • recommendations to address the issue.

The submissions process for the inquiry opened on Monday, 9 July 2018, and public consultations will be held in all major Australian cities later this year. Three years after the release of its report, the AHRC will assess any changes and make further recommendations.

What can you do now?

Sexual harassment and similar claims are being seen more often since the issue has gained greater exposure. At stake for employers are the severe cost consequences and potential damage to reputation that can result from a claim or a decision that the employer was liable for the actions of its employee.

Among other things, employers should take this opportunity to consider their policies and workplace training, which are an essential part of taking reasonable steps to prevent and address harassing behaviour. It is important to ensure that policies and training are up to date and in line with relevant state and federal requirements.