In late 2021, new anti-sexual-discrimination laws in Australia were implemented to enhance protections of persons from sexual harassment in the workplace under the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021. This legislation enhanced and brought in new laws in the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA) and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (the Act), with the goal of progressing and building better cultures and safety in the workplace for all persons.
Case Law – THDL  FWC 6692
In January 2022, in what is thought to be the first decision under the new anti-sexual-harassment legislation was handed down in the Fair Work Commission, a worker failed to obtain a stop bullying and sexual harassment order under section 789FC of the Act, against two workers who were employed by a neighboring company.
It was alleged that the two persons had bullied and harassed the worker while at work, as both businesses were located in the same complex. However, while it was not confirmed whether these allegations were true, the Commission found that the workers business had recently relocated and as such both parties would be unlikely to continue to cross paths.
As a result of the new laws implemented in late 2021, the Act was amended to allow the Commission to issue orders under section 789FC for preventing a worker from bullying or sexual harassment, as outlined in section 789FF of the Act if:
The worker has been bullied and/or sexually harassed at work by an individual or a group of individuals, or there is a risk the worker will continue to be bullied and/or sexually harassed at work by the individual/s.
The Commission found that due to the fact that both parties no longer worked in the same complex and have intervention orders on foot restricting their contact, there is no risk of continuous bullying and/or sexual harassment and the application would not succeed, leading to the application being dismissed.
What can we learn from these new laws?
While the matter highlighted above did not result in a successful outcome for the worker in obtaining a bullying and/or sexual harassment order, the matter highlights one of the key changes that has been made to the Act. Most notably, the Fair Work Commission now has the ability to make orders to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, among other rights and protections.
Notable changes have also been made to the SDA and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, in which provide a wider scope and further protected from harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
The introduction of such changes stresses the importance for employers to review company policies and procedures to ensure that their workers are protected from such discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Further, employees should ensure they are aware of these new changes and their rights and obligations when dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace.
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