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New workplace sexual harassment laws come into force in Australia

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A person or company can be liable for sexual harassment conducted by an employee or agent

Australia’s Fair Work Act has been amended to prohibit or ban sexual harassment in connection with work, including in the workplace.

The changes took effect from 6 March 2023 and expand the previous protections around sexual harassment in the workplace.

The protection applies to workers including employees, contractors, work experience students and volunteers as well as future workers, and people conducting a business or undertaking. The protection will not apply to sexual harassment that starts before 6 March 2023.

A person or company can be liable for sexual harassment conducted by an employee or agent in connection with work, including if they were involved in the employer’s contravention. This applies unless the person or company can prove that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment.

The Fair Work Commission now has greater powers to deal with workplace sexual harassment.

In addition to its existing ‘stop sexual harassment order’ powers, the Commission can deal with disputes about sexual harassment by conciliation, mediation, or making a recommendation or expressing an opinion.

The Fair Work Ombudsman stated: “Where a dispute cannot be resolved these ways, the Commission may also be able to deal with the dispute by arbitration if the parties agree. If this happens, the Commission can make an order: for compensation or lost wages; requiring a person to do something that’s reasonable to remedy any loss or damage suffered.”

The changes are part of the Australian Government’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation.

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