New Positive Duty: How to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace?

Sexual harassment has been unlawful in Australia since 1984. However, despite this longstanding legislation, the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces remains a concerning issue, affecting an alarming one in three workers.

To address this concern, the Australian Human Rights Commission decided to take action.

In 2023, it released Guidelines for Complying with the Positive Duty under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), aimed at preventing sexual harassment.

The crucial word here is preventing rather than merely responding to incidents. Employers should be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and understand their positive duty. They must focus on proactive measures to prevent such incidents.

 

Here’s everything you need to know as an employer to accomplish that and prepare for compliance with the new Positive Duty.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

According to the SECT 28A of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, sexual harassment occurs when a person:

  • “makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed, or;
  • engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed.”

Instances of sexual harassment in the workplace may include making sexual jokes, engaging in inappropriate physical contact, sending messages containing explicit content, displaying graphic media, etc.

How do you prevent sexual harassment in your workplace and prepare for positive duty?

Here are actionable, proactive steps you can take to ensure your company is well-prepared for the new Positive Duty.

1. Do a risk assessment

Start with a thorough evaluation of your current workplace environment. This first step aims to identify potential areas of risk for sexual harassment, taking into account workplace culture, existing policies, and past incidents. Additionally, consider conducting an anonymous survey to gather honest opinions from your teams.

2. Refine your policies

After the risk assessment, refine and strengthen your company’s policies to address identified risk areas. Make sure these policies are easily accessible, whether through online platforms or employee handbooks. Here, it’s vital to make adjustments that align with the feedback from your team in the first step and also adhere to legal requirements.

3. Provide ongoing training

Another critical step in preparing and complying with the Positive Duty is facilitating ongoing training. Regularly organise sessions to educate employees on recognising and preventing sexual harassment. Also, you can implement interactive workshops, provide real-world scenarios, and encourage open discussions to enhance awareness and promote a culture of respect in the workplace.

4. Establish reporting channels

Ensure your company has adequate and reliable reporting channels for sexual harassment incidents. While the new Positive Duty emphasises prevention, having a robust response system is crucial. It enables your organisation to respond promptly to any issues. Furthermore, It instils trust in your employees, assuring them of a proper complaint-handling system and thorough investigation procedures they can rely on.

5. Maintain documentation

Lastly, document your Positive Duty efforts. This not only provides evidence of compliance but also helps track your workplace’s progress. By documenting your initiatives, you can implement more effective strategies and, inevitably, enhance the employee experience, contributing to overall company success.

The following are some of the records you should document:

  • posters, brochures, and emails that outline available support options (St. 5)
  • proof of the support provided, such as emails or notes documenting conversations (St. 5)
  • a documented procedure for reporting unlawful conduct (St. 6)
  • securely store data about reports (St. 6)

*For a complete list of required documentation, see the official Guidelines for Complying with the Positive Duty under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Prevent sexual harassment and meet Positive Duty with the proper support

In 2024, employers are legally required to prevent sexual harassment proactively. So, now is the perfect moment to begin preparations. And the perfect place to start?

The steps we shared in this article.

If you need assistance refining your policies, setting up proper reporting channels, or implementing any other steps discussed here – reach out to our HR and employment expert team. 

We stand ready to provide guidance and support in ensuring your workplace is respectful, compliant, and safe.