What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 30 August to 5 September

Views Sought for Anti-Discrimination Law Reform

Western Australian Attorney-General John Quigley is encouraging submissions on Western Australia’s anti-discrimination laws. The Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper this week as part of its review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA). It suggests that more can be done to protect and encourage equal treatment to ensure that WA is a fair, respectful and non-discriminatory community. The document poses questions regarding potential changes to the Act, including comparison with other State, Territory and Commonwealth Laws. Potential areas for reform include:
• Expanding protections to include gender identity;
• Including physical features as a ground for discrimination;
• Removing the disadvantage requirement for sexual and racial harassment;
• Changing exemptions for religious bodies and schools, charities and voluntary groups; and
• Increasing or removing the $40 000 cap for compensation.

BHP Reveals Plans for Workplace Sex Pest Database

BHP has revealed plans to build a database of workplace ‘sex pests’ and to introduce criminal background checks for all new recruits. They have also increased screening for jobseekers by requiring them to disclose any “allegations, investigations or convictions” for sexual harassment, assault and other violent crimes. Its previous recruitment policy was to conduct criminal background checks for potential candidates only if “relevant to the role.” While BHP says contractors are expected to meet its standards and policies on sexual harassment, it is taking action to stop offenders’ job-hopping in the industry by improving its system to identify a worker removed from a mine site around the world because of sexual harassment. BHP has sacked 48 workers for sexual harassment at its WA operations since 2019.

Government Passes Legislation to Prevent and Address Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces

The Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 passed Parliament on Thursday. The bill implements a number of recommendations from the Respect@Work report. Some of the changes passed include:
• Creating a new object clause to make it clear the Sex Discrimination Act aims to achieve equality of opportunity between men and women.
• Clarifying that harassing a person on the basis of sex is prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Act.
• Protecting more workers from sexual harassment by broadening the scope of people covered to include members of parliament, judges and their staff are included under the Act.
• Clarifying that a complaint of victimisation can be considered a civil or criminal matter.
• Extending the timeframe for which a complaint can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission to reduce procedural barriers for complaints under the Act.
• Clarifying that the Fair Work Commission may make orders to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.
• Clarifying that sexual harassment can be a valid reason for dismissal under the Fair Work Act.
• Enabling an employee to take compassionate leave if they, or their spouse or de facto partner, has a miscarriage.

LGBTQIA+ Employees Twice As Likely To Experience Discrimination In The Workplace

Data released by SEEK as part of its Promoting Real Inclusion, Diversity and Empowerment in the Workplace report highlights the inequality facing LGBT+ staff in the workplace. These employees are twice as likely to have experienced workplace discrimination, and are two and half times more likely to fake being sick or skip work so they don’t have to come to a workplace where they feel unsafe. The report also revealed that 57% of LGBT+ workers who have experienced or witnessed discrimination say these issues are rarely or never resolved. Jason Tuazon McCheyne, CEO of the Equality Project, a national LGBT+ charity, says there are tools to foster a safe working environment for diverse employees. Some of the strategies he recommends are codes of conduct, awareness days and sessions, and the introduction of visual cues, such as rainbow logos.