As of December 12, 2023, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wields unprecedented authority to rigorously oversee compliance, publicly identify, and penalise businesses falling short in addressing and preventing workplace sexual harassment.
The game-changing Respect@Work Act of 2022, through amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), Workplace Safety laws, Fair Work Act 2009, and Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, marks a profound shift. These legislative modifications transcend a mere prevention-centric approach, now compelling organisations with a positive duty to adopt reasonable and proportionate measures to proactively eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace.
This change in the law means workplaces must not only follow the rules but also promote respect, fairness, and completely stopping harassment. We’ll help you understand these changes in workplace rules by focusing on four main strategies.
Do you require your staff to read and acknowledge your policies regularly? Securing a safe and respectful workplace hinges on the continuous maintenance of up-to-date policies. Take the next steps to guarantee that your organisation’s policies reflect the following:
- Clear, comprehensive, and easily accessible policies for addressing sexual harassment.
- Easy to understand by all employees. Furthermore, implement effective communication strategies to help achieve this.
- Continuously kept up-to-date.
- Acknowledged by employees. By establish acknowledgment processes you can ensure and track compliance with the policies.
Keeping on top of, and maintaining your organisation’s policies is crucial for creating a respectful workplace.
Do you ensure all sexual harassment complaints are thoroughly investigated? Establishing robust mechanisms to address sexual harassment complaints is crucial for cultivating a secure and responsive workplace culture. For example, when implementing these mechanisms, consider the following approach
- Establish clear procedures: Define comprehensive procedures for handling complaints related to sexual harassment within the organisation.
- Prioritise seriousness and urgency: Ensure that every raised concern is treated with the seriousness and urgency it deserves, emphasising a commitment to swift and appropriate action.
- Thorough investigation: Implement thorough investigation processes to delve into the details of each complaint, considering the nature and severity of the issue at hand.
- Appropriate resolution: Guarantee that the resolution to each complaint aligns with the specifics of the situation, maintaining fairness and professionalism throughout.
- Cultivate a safe reporting culture: Having such mechanisms in place fosters a workplace culture where employees feel safe and confident reporting issues related to sexual harassment, knowing their concerns will be addressed professionally and fairly.
3. Staff surveys
How often do you survey your staff? Strengthening a culture of open communication and continuous improvement demands the strategic implementation of staff surveys. Consider taking these essential steps to fortify this commitment:
- Confidential and anonymous feedback: Administer surveys through both electronic and paper methods, ensuring confidentiality and anonymity to encourage honest feedback from employees.
- Regular monitoring: Conduct surveys on a regular basis, whether annually or semi-annually, to consistently gauge the pulse of the workplace culture and identify any emerging issues related to sexual harassment.
Why are staff surveys so important?
4. Compliance Training
Do all employees and leaders receive training on recognising and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace? Critical for nurturing a secure and respectful workplace, compliance training ensures employees’ understanding and adherence to pertinent laws and regulations, especially in the prevention of sexual harassment. This importance is underscored by the following essential aspects:
- Foundational significance: Compliance training is indispensable in imparting knowledge about relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards.
- Cultivating workplace values: Comprehensive training initiatives play a pivotal role in cultivating workplace values anchored in respect and safety.
- Empowering individuals: Empowers each member of the organisation, instilling an active role in fostering a secure and respectful workplace.
Beyond the core Respect@Work training, you should be regularly rolling out additional training courses that cover the new legislation as well as impacted legislations. Courses including:
You can view our full range of recommended courses here. In the workplace, it is imperative to cultivate a culture of safety and respect.
Leaders serve as the cornerstone for the entire organisation, shaping its ethos. When leaders undergo specialised training on respect, prevention, and resolution of sexual harassment, they transform into role models for their teams. This is crucial because businesses bear a positive duty to eradicate unlawful behaviour in the workplace, with the statutory obligation known as the positive duty outlined in the Sex Discrimination Act. This mandate necessitates that employers take affirmative steps, such as providing reasonable and proportionate measures, to prevent and eliminate instances of sexual harassment within the workplace. Therefore, initiating change begins with training leaders, fostering a culture of compliance and respect.
The importance of keeping your training up-to-date
Balancing the emphasis on Respect@Work with a broader perspective is crucial in fostering a healthy workplace. While acknowledging the significance of maintaining respect as a cornerstone for promoting psychosocial well-being, it’s essential to recognise that Respect@Work alone may not encompass all facets of Workplace Health and Safety (WHS). Instead, it should be integrated into a comprehensive WHS strategy that considers physical, mental, and social well-being. By combining respectful practices with a holistic approach to WHS, organisations can cultivate a safer, healthier, and more productive work environment for their employees.
Prioritising transparency, effective communication, and ongoing improvement allows organisations to establish a genuinely safe and respectful environment for all employees.
By investing in these essential elements – across policies, mechanisms, surveys and training – organisations not only fulfill their legal obligations but also actively foster an inclusive and respectful culture, enabling employees to excel and make their best contributions.
Unsure where your organisation stands with its Respect@Work obligations?
Complete our free Respect@Work Assessment Health Check. It is designed to evaluate your organisation’s adherence to legal requirements on sexual harassment and discrimination.
Get a comprehensive score breakdown and identify areas for improvement. Safeguard your business by taking the first step with our Respect@Work Assessment Health Check.