Hostile workplaces and the employer’s obligations

There’s a new harassment law that applies to employers.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Act) now prohibits a ‘hostile’ workplace on the grounds of sex. A workplace may be hostile if is offensive, intimidating, or humiliating because of even a ‘characteristic’ of the ‘sex of the person’.  This might include transsexuals.

The law now says sexual harassment may occur even where conduct was not targeted. Simply displaying obscene or pornographic materials, general sexual banter, or innuendo and offensive jokes may indicate a hostile work environment. The test appears to be objective. i.e., would a reasonable person be offended, intimidated, or humiliated because of their sexual orientation?

The Act also expands the Commission’s rights to investigate, make recommendations, provide compliance notices, apply to Court for an order or accept enforceable undertakings.  The Court can impose a fine or imprison an employer for contempt of court.

The law places an onus on employers to take “reasonable and proportionate” measures to eliminate the behaviour, as far as possible.  The duty extends to conduct by customers or clients.  This means you cannot simply respond to poor behaviour, You must take steps to prevent it.

Implementing a new policy and training will not be enough.  You will need to engage in a workplace strategy that addresses the underlying culture of a business. mylegal can assist with policies, training, and creating a strategy.

Please contact Aspen ([email protected] ) or Matthew ([email protected]) if want more information.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Australian law is complex and ever-changing, and you should always obtain advice specific to your circumstances from a qualified legal practitioner. If you require advice, please contact us at (07) 5479 2457 or at [email protected] to see how we can help.