Home - Agencies push for reform in laws regulating workplace discrimination and harassment

UpdatesFeb 24, 2022

Agencies push for reform in laws regulating workplace discrimination and harassment

A patchwork of statutes operating at a federal and state level prohibit discrimination in workplaces (among other areas). These are supplemented by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and work health and safety legislation. However, there are many gaps in the protections provided by these laws.

In December 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) published a report entitled Free and equal: A reform agenda for federal discrimination laws (Report). In the Report, the AHRC sets out its views on the difficulties facing discrimination laws and made some suggestions for reform.

Late last year, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) was amended to extend its coverage to volunteers and interns in the workplace. The AHRC wants this to be the case of the other federal discrimination statutes that outlaw discrimination on grounds of disability, age and race.

The AHRC is also pushing for laws that make unlawful indirect discrimination on grounds of family or carer responsibilities, and discrimination on the basis of an irrelevant criminal record.

Meanwhile, a Ministerial Taskforce has conveyed to the Victorian Government stakeholder views seeking changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) (EO Act) and Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) to better mitigate workplace sexual harassment.

The suggestion is to amend OHS Act to mandate reporting to WorkSafe of incidents of workplace sexual harassment. This would be consistent with Federal Government’s response to the Respect@Work report.

There are also calls for the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to be given enforcement powers to address systemic issues of sexual harassment following investigation. The VEOHRC recently conducted a comprehensive inquiry into the prevalence of sexual harassment in Ambulance Victoria.

Whichever agency is beefed up, it is recognised there is a need for regulators to monitor employer compliance with duties to eliminate sexual harassment. There also seems to be support for:

Keys to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace

In the meantime, the AHRC has issued a framework to assist organisations to do more to prevent workplace sexual harassment than implement policies, training and complaint-handing procedures.

The AHRC framework recommends action in the following areas to prevent sexual harassment:


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