Sweeping changes to sexual harassment laws are brought in by Scott Morrison

Sweeping changes made to sexual harassment laws which could change the Australian workplace forever and see staffers fired for unwanted compliments – here’s what it means for your office

Scott Morrison will move to toughen up sexual harassment laws with a series of changes that will make it easier to fire offenders.

The government will change the Fair Work Act to categorise harassment as serious misconduct, meaning an employee can be terminated for offences such as making unwanted sexual advances or suggestive comments or jokes.

Mr Morrison also wants to include sexual harassment in stop bullying orders which allow employees to request to work different shifts to a bullying boss or colleague.

Scott Morrison will move to toughen up sexual harassment laws with a series of changes that will make it easier to fire offenders

Scott Morrison will move to toughen up sexual harassment laws with a series of changes that will make it easier to fire offenders

The government will also change the Human Rights Act to extend the time victims have to make sexual harassment complaints from six months to two years.

Attorney-general Michaelia Cash said the new rules will bring clarity for employers. 

‘So we are going to ensure they know… that if you want, if sexual harassment is occurring in the workplace and it is proven, you can terminate a person for that,’ she said.  

‘We will amend the definition of “serious misconduct” in the Fair Work regulations to include sexual harassment. 

‘We will also clarify that sexual harassment can be a ground or a valid reason for dismissal. 

‘This will give employers the certainty they need to take action, but what it also says to employees and victims of sexual harassment is there are consequences for this action in the workplace,’ Senator Cash said. 

Also under the changes – which the prime minster wants to pass parliament by July with bi-partisan support – MPs and judges will no longer be exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act, meaning they can be subject to discrimination complaints. 

Independent MP Rebekha Sharkie tried to make that change in March but the government shut her down.

The changes come in response to the 2018 [email protected] Report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

Mr Morrison said his government has agreed in whole, in part or in principle to all 55 recommendations. 

‘Sexual harassment is unacceptable,’ he told reporters on Thursday. 

‘It’s not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, but particularly in the context of the [email protected] report it denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security by not being safe at work.’ 

What is sexual harassment? 

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Sexual harassment can include:

 unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing

inappropriate staring or leering

suggestive comments or jokes

using suggestive or sexualised nicknames for co-workers

sexually explicit pictures, posters or gifts

circulating sexually explicit material

persistent unwanted invitations to go out on dates

requests or pressure for sex

intrusive questions or comments about a person’s private life or body 

insults or taunts based on sex 

 unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person 

sexual gestures or indecent exposure

following, watching or loitering nearby another person

sexually explicit or indecent physical contact

sexually explicit or indecent emails, phone calls, text messages or online interactions

repeated or inappropriate advances online

threatening to share intimate images or film without consent

actual or attempted rape or sexual assault 

Source: Safe Work Australia 



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Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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