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Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Employers will have positive duty to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces, under new legislation

Employers will have duty “to take reasonable and proportionate measures” to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible in workplaces, under legislation to be introduced on Tuesday.

The Albanese government is moving to implement seven legislative changes recommended by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in her Respect@Work report which were not undertaken by the Morrison government in its response.

The former government was particularly reluctant to impose the positive obligation on employers.

Labor’s bill will charge the Australian Human Rights Commission with assessing and enforcing compliance with this new requirement. The commission will be able to give employers compliance notices if they are not meeting their obligations.

The legislation will expressly prohibit conduct that results in a hostile workplace environment on the basis of sex.

Commonwealth public sector organisations must also report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on gender equality indicators.

The Jenkins report said a commission survey in 2018 “showed that sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is widespread and pervasive. One in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years”.

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The survey found “almost two in five women (39%) and just over one in four men (26%) have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to have experienced workplace sexual harassment than people who are non-Indigenous (53% and 32% respectively).”

In her report, Jenkins called on employers to create “safe, gender-equal and inclusive workplaces”. She said this would need “a shift from the current reactive model, that requires complaints from individuals, to a proactive model, which will require positive actions from employers”.

The government said in a statement that its bill was part of its broader work to promote gender equality, “recognising that achieving women’s economic equality includes making sure women are safe at work.”

Separately, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke is having a prohibition of sexual harassment put in the Fair Work Act.

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