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Sexual harassment grounds for dismissal in major workplace overhaul

Lucy Dean
·3-min read
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 25: Senator Michaelia Cash during an appearance at Education and Employment Committee at Parliament House on March 25, 2021 in Canberra, Australia.  (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Michaelia Cash has responded to the Respect@Work recommendations. Image: Getty.

The Government has announced it will amend the definition of serious misconduct to include sexual harassment, and will make it clear that sexual harassment is now grounds for dismissal. 

The change is part of a move to address the problem of workplace harassment in Australia.

The new laws will also now cover federal MPs, following an avalanche of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct claims levelled at the Government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash confirmed on Thursday.

Previously, MPs, judges and public servants were exempt.

Victims of sexual harassment will also now have two years to come forward with complaints under human rights laws, before the complaints can be terminated by the Australian Human Rights Commission president. This has been increased from six months to recognise the complex issues stopping, or slowing victims from coming forward. 

Government agrees to 55 Respect@Work recommendations

The amendments were first recommended in the Respect@Work report from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. The report was handed to the Government in January 2020 before being publicly released last March.

The report examined sexual harassment, the factors contributing to it and the prevalence of it over 18 months in Australia.

Morrison said the Government agrees either wholly, partly or in principle with all 55 recommendations in the major report. 

The Government plans to introduce a package of legislation around the recommendations later this year, with next month's Federal Budget to include funding to support the changes.

Flawed sexual harassment complaints process

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House on March 24, 2021 in Canberra, Australia. On Monday, the federal government was set back by new allegations broadcast by the Ten Network after pixelated images of unnamed Coalition advisers allegedly engaging in performing lewd sex acts on the desks of female MPs resulting in a Morrison staff member being sacked last night. Additionally, the ABC Network aired a first hand account by an Australian Parliament security guard of what she witnessed on the night Brittany Higgins was allegedly raped in the office of then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds in early 2019. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image: Getty.

The report said Australia’s current sexual harassment complaints system is flawed as it places a heavy burden on victims to report harassment and pursue action. 

It recommended Australia instead move to a system in which employers must proactively identify and remove sexual harassment from workplaces.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 39 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men have experienced sexual harassment at work.

“Everyone has a right to be safe at work. Sexual harassment must be prohibited in the work place,” Morrison said.

“There are many recommendations in the report that go to the urgent need for better data and research and information to guide the responses, not just of the Australian Government but all governments and indeed employers and workplaces and employees all around the country.”

Responding to questioning on why it took the Government more than a year to act on the report, Morrison said the Government had partly responded in the October Federal Budget. 

It committed $2.1 million from the October Federal Budget to establish a Respect@Work council chaired by Kate Jenkins, and to run a survey every four years to measure the prevalence of sexual harassment.

"Last year when it came to addressing issues, particularly impacting women, my focus - as was my ministers' - was ensuring that they were protected as much as possible from issues such as domestic violence," Morrison said.

"Last year we were very focused on those very urgent needs to protect women at a time when they were very vulnerable during COVID. We put the additional resources in and now we're in a position, I think, to address these more systemic and longer-term issues which are very important and I'm pleased we're able to do that today."

The Government on Wednesday confirmed it will also hold a national women's security summit in late July.

Image: Yahoo Finance
Image: Yahoo Finance