New harassment laws to start late 2023

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New workplace laws offering protections against sexual harassment and measures to make it easier to seek justice are expected to start in late 2023.

The legislation cleared the Senate on Friday and is set to be rubber-stamped by the lower house next week before parliament rises for the year.

But the laws but won’t come into effect until a year after royal assent – to give employers time to implement and train for their new responsibilities.

The laws will force employers to take reasonable steps to eliminate sexual discrimination and sexual harassment at work and update the aim of the legislation to achieve gender equality in the workplace.

It will also remove the cost barrier for people who have experienced sexual harassment or assault seeking legal recourse.

The Women’s Legal Centre raised concerns about women fearing coming forward due to the fact they won’t be believed and could end up paying the other side’s legal costs.

“Fees can be so significant that the average person would face financial ruin. It’s no surprise that many women decide not to take this gamble,” Greens senator Larissa Waters said.

“Costs should not be the determining factor in work in whether workers are prepared to call out bad behaviour and insist on a safe workplace.”

Senator Waters said it was clear the current laws provided all kinds of barriers for people to come forward.

“Cultural attitudes, costs, risks, and the genuine fear that they’d be targeted at work through further harassment or loss of hours,” he said.

“This bill goes a long way towards removing those barriers.”

She said the positive duty of employers to ensure a safe workplace would help change the culture.

Labor senator Marielle Smith called the bill a landmark moment for Australian workers.

Senator Smith spoke of her own fear and discomfort working as a young hospitality worker.

“That anxiety which keeps you up at night because you don’t want to go back in to work tomorrow because you know the harassment you’re going to experience,” she said.

She also thanked all the people who told their own stories to push for change.

“They should be proud.”

Liberal senator Michaelia Cash said there needed to be decisive action against harassment in the workplace.

“We should not and never tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace or anywhere else,” she said.

The changes stem from the recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s landmark Respect at Work report.

It found “prevalent and pervasive” sexual harassment in workplaces in every industry and at all levels of management, particularly for women.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins made 55 recommendations to address the prevalence of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.

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