Huge changes to Australia’s workplace laws are set to alter the office dynamic around the country for good with unwanted flirting becoming grounds for termination.
The Morrison government has released its long-awaited response to the Respect at Work report, accepting all 55 recommendations either wholly or in principle.
The definition of serious misconduct across all workplaces will be changed to include sexual harassment, meaning it will be a valid reason for dismissal from June.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the changes were about changing the culture of Australian workplaces to keep all people safe.
‘Sexual harassment is unacceptable,’ he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
‘It’s not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, but particularly in the context of the Respect at Work report, it denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security.’
Daily Mail Australia has compiled the definitive list of everything you need to know about the new changes – and what it means for your workplace.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured on Thursday) said the changes were about changing the culture of Australian workplaces to keep all people safe
If deemed harassment, unwanted flirting or compliments – whether in the office or at a work event – will now be grounds for misconduct.
The prime minister was on Thursday asked about instances where people sometimes ‘struggle’ to know the difference between flirting and sexual harassment.
He responded: ‘I think in many cases, we’re dealing with unconscious behaviour and we want to help inform that behaviour.
‘I think people will happily change their behaviour if they were aware that some of their unconscious acts could be leading to that sense of hurt or dismissal with their fellow Australians.’
Mr Morrison said there were other instances that are ‘malevolent’ and ‘predatory’.
‘In other cases, it’s violent and I think those – those lines are a lot clearer and I think what we’re doing here today brings further force to deal particularly with those types of behaviours,’ he said.
The definition of serious misconduct across all workplaces will be changed to include sexual harassment, which will also be a valid reason for dismissal (stock image)
TWO YEARS TO COMPLAIN TO BOSSES
Under human rights laws, the scope for complaints will be extended to two years from six months to give victims more time to come forward.
Senator Michaelia Cash said: ‘As you know, victims don’t necessarily come forward in that six month period.’
‘We’re going to extend that out to 24 months to enable them and give them the time they may need to come forward.’
The Respect at Work report also recommended the establishment of a disclosure process that enables victims of historical workplace sexual harassment matters ‘to have their experience heard and documented’.
‘As well as this Inquiry, other significant inquiries have demonstrated that outside of any formal complaint handling process, there is a healing power in having one’s experience heard,’ the report reads.
‘More importantly, these inquiries have demonstrated that individual stories provide an understanding of what has happened in the past and present and can enable identification of future reforms so that such incidents and systemic wrongs are not repeated.’
The Australian Human Rights Commission also heard that while listening to victims experiences was ‘confronting’ it was also ‘beneficial’.
The Morrison government has released its long-awaited response to the Respect at Work report, accepting all 55 recommendations either wholly or in principle (stock image)
Work events are extensions of the workplace according to the Commission, meaning unwanted attention at the Christmas party could also constitute serious misconduct.
The 2018 National Survey found that one in four people who experienced workplace sexual harassment in the last five years said the most recent incident happened at a social area for workers.
The Commission was also told about victims being harassed in lunchrooms, cafes during work lunches, at bars during work dinners and after-work drinks and at Christmas parties.
Work events are extensions of the workplace according to the Commission, meaning unwanted attention at the Christmas party could also constitute serious misconduct (stock image)
CHANGING THE WAY WE SPEAK
Senator Cash on Thursday said another aim is to change the way Australians speak about women in daily conversation.
She said phrases like ‘don’t chuck like a girl’ should be stamped out.
‘That was one of the ones where growing up people may have said that, but we now know it has connotations. Do not say it,’ she said.
Mr Morrison urged Aussies from all walks of life to talk about what is acceptable to say.
‘I was recently at a game and there was an older couple sitting next to me watching the game. I heard something the husband said to the wife about what she had said, and he said, ”We can’t say that anymore.” I went, ”That’s what we were talking about” it wasn’t angry, it wasn’t dismissive, it wasn’t – it was respectful, it was positive,’ he said.
‘I think that’s the sort of conversation that we have to have in our relationships, in our communities, in our homes, in our clubs, in our churches, wherever you happen to be. We’ve just got to have these conversations and people need to understand in our own workplaces what is OK, what’s not OK.’
Australians should also aim to change the way they speak about others, specifically their language when it comes to women (stock image)
MPS AND JUDGES
Politicians and judges will be subject to the same sexual harassment laws as the wider population.
Ms Cash said including MPs and judges in sexual harassment laws would expose them to existing complaints processes.
‘We’ll be subject to the same law as anybody else, which means you’ll be subject to the same consequences,’ she said.
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
Almost 40 per cent of women and more than a quarter of men experience sexual harassment at work in the past five years, according to the latest data.
The government has also agreed with the principle that employers should be forced to take more proactive action on harassment to ease the burden on victims.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins handed her report to the government in January last year.
The coalition has been under enormous pressure to address women’s safety after recent rape and sexual harassment allegations rocked federal politics.
It sparked a wave of major protests across the country and prompted questions about why the government’s response to the report took so long.
Mr Morrison said money to support the recommendations would be included in next month’s federal budget.
The government is aiming for a package of legislation to be introduced to parliament this year.