As foreshadowed in our previous article, the Federal Government has succumbed to public pressure and taken much needed action to support women who experience miscarriages and gender inequality in the workplace.

 

On 24 June 2021, the Federal Government introduced the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 (‘Bill’) into Parliament.

 

What proposed changes effect women?

 

Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (‘FW Act’):

  • Proposition that the FW Act be amended to enable a miscarriage to be a valid reason for an employee to take up to two (2) days bereavement leave under the National Employment Standards.

 

Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, proposed changes also include:

  • A statement in the object clause which states that the Act aims to achieve equality of opportunity between men and women in the workplace;
  • a new provision stating that it is unlawful to harass a person on the ground of their sex and not requiring that the conduct be sexual in nature. The new term ‘sex-based harassment’ would be defined as ‘unwelcome conduct of a seriously demeaning nature by reason of the person’s sex in circumstances in which… a reasonable person would have anticipated that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated’;

 

 

Impact on employers?

 

Employers need to make sure they follow the progress of the Bill and in anticipation of it being passed ensure they review and update their sexual harassment and gender equality policies and processes associated with grievances and investigations.

 

Employers must also ensure that workplace policies are communicated via appropriate training sessions to avoid being vicariously liable for an employee’s conduct.

 

Employers should also be conscious of recent appeal decisions including Golding v Sippel and The Laundry Chute Pty Ltd [2021] ICQ 14 (6 August 2021) which doubled the award for damages on account of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. This decision is one of many which highlights an increase in compensation amounts being awarded.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact our employment team (Simon Abraham, Amy La Verde, Bianca Mazzarella or Madeline Hearn) if your business needs further guidance or support in relation to gender equality or sexual harassment policies and training.