26 September 2023

New workplace rules for harassed staff

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Victorians are to be better protected from sexual harassment in the workplace under new nation-leading reforms that change the way employers are required to deal with the issue.

Responding to recommendations from the Ministerial Taskforce on Workplace Sexual Harassment, Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt said Government is to begin work to restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for workplace sexual harassment cases in Victoria.

Ms Stitt said NDAs were often misused to silence victim-survivors, protect employer reputations, avoid full liability and hide serial offending.

“This will require close consultation with victim-survivors, unions, business and the legal profession to develop the appropriate model and scope of the restriction before introducing legislation – as this complex reform has never before been attempted we need to ensure we get it right,” Ms Stitt said.

“The Government also accepts the recommendation to treat sexual harassment as an occupational health and safety issue and will help WorkSafe build its capacity to tackle sexual harassment,” she said.

“This will allow WorkSafe to expand its WorkWell program and dedicate part of it to preventing workplace sexual harassment.”

Ms Stitt said the State would also introduce de-identified employer reporting to WorkSafe on workplace sexual harassment, as part of proposed new psychological health regulations.

The Taskforce made 26 recommendations across four reform pillars, preventing sexual harassment, supporting workers to report sexual harassment, enforcing compliance when there was a breach of health and safety duties, and raising awareness and promoting accountability in workplaces.

The Government response accepted in-part or in-principle 21 of the Taskforce’s 26 recommendations.

It noted five recommendations, including the extension of industrial relations powers referred to the Commonwealth to bullying and sexual harassment matters, to allow public sector employees to apply for orders or seek other remedies at the Fair Work Commission.

It also noted the Taskforce’s recommendations to implement legislative amendments that enabled workers and unions to initiate civil remedy proceedings for breaches of the OHS Act, and introduce mandatory incident notifications for workplace sexual harassment.

The final recommendation noted for consideration was legislation to hold company directors and senior management liable for incidents of sexual harassment in circumstances where they had failed to meet their obligations under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

The Taskforce’s 12-page recommendations can be accessed at this PS News link and the Government’s 18-page response at this link.

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