Judges to be dismissed under reformed sexual harassment legislation
Judges and politicians will now be subjected to the sexual harassment laws that they have long been excluded from under a suite of legislative and regulatory changes announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Michaelia Cash.
Speaking to media on Thursday, 8 April, Scott Morrison said all 55 recommendations from the Respect@Work report would be either agreed wholly, in part or in principle in the federal government’s attempt to prevent any further sexual harassment. Under the long-awaited reforms, sexual harassment will officially be grounds for dismissal if perpetuated by a judge or a politician, who were previously excluded from the law.
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“Sexual harassment is unacceptable,” he commented. “It’s not only immoral and despicable, and even criminal, but particularly in the context of the Respect@Work report, it denies Australians – and especially women – not just their personal security but their economic security by not being safe in the workplace.”
Mr Morrison said the recommendations underwent “extensive consideration” and would be focusing on prevention with evidence-based policies. The legal changes would also include simplifying and clarifying definitions within the legislation to make it clear what does and does not constitute sexual harassment in the workplace.
Addressing the media alongside Mr Morrison, Michaelia Cash said these definition changes will also fall under Fair Work regulations by amending the definition of sexual misconduct to include sexual harassment. The existing stop bullying order will now also include sexual harassment under a partially agreed recommendation.
“We will also clarify that sexual harassment can be a ground, or a valid reason, for dismissal. This will give employers the certainty that they need to take action but what it also says to employees and victims of sexual harassment [is that there] are consequences for this action in the workplace,” Ms Cash said.
“Employers just do not understand their obligations, but in relation to taking action in terms of sexual harassment they felt that because it is not specifically referred to as grounds for sexual misconduct, it meant that they could not be dismissed. They cannot even take that first step. We are going to ensure they know by making the changes that if harassment is occurring and proven, you can terminate a person.”
The human rights act will also undergo amendments to increase the time allotted for employees to come forward. While currently it’s six months, Ms Cash said she knows some victims are unable to speak up in that time span so they will be pushing it out to 24 months “to give them the time they may need to come forward”.
Commenting on the announcement, Hall & Wilcox employment lawyer Fay Calderone said it is positive to see the federal government “finally committing” to the recommendations 15 months after it was made public but cautioned that it is still unclear exactly how many recommendations will be implemented as they are.
“Australian employers are however now on notice that sexual harassment at work will not be tolerated. Leaders and boards should be paying attention to make sure their workplaces are not exposed to potential claims,” Ms Calderone said.
“Most importantly, employees who sexually harass others in the workplace are being sent a clear message: this behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Addressing criticisms that the recommendations could have been implemented over the last year but was only brought on because of the recent scandals plaguing Parliament House, Mr Morrison said that there is “no doubt” that the events of the recent month reinforced the significance of the report.