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Respect@Work: Navigating Legislative Changes and Building a Respectful Workplace Culture

In 2022, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted the fifth national survey to investigate the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. They surveyed over 10,000 people aged 15 years or over, using a representative sample of the Australian population in terms of gender, age and geographic location.  The findings suggest one in three employees have experienced workplace sexual harassment in the last five years.

Previously, the law primarily focussed on dealing with harassment or discriminatory conduct. There has since been a shift in the legislation with the establishment of the Respect@Work act. Respect@Work has moved the focus towards prevention and focuses on stopping harassment and discrimination from occurring in the first place.

Although the content of the amended legislation has been widely communicated, the volume of information available on this topic can be overwhelming. Recent discussions with our clients have been around where to begin in terms of practical implementation, particularly for organisations that do not have specialist internal expertise in this space.

Here are some essential changes you need to be aware of:

  1. A Positive Duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace (Positive Duty)

Employers and Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking are required to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, victimisation, and hostile work environments so far as possible.

The reasonable and proportionate measures will take account of matters such as the size, nature, and resources of the business, as well as the practicability and cost of eliminating the conduct. Positive Duty is similar to the positive obligations imposed by Work Health and Safety legislation.

  1. Hostile working environments

Another new provision prohibits conduct that subjects another person to a workplace environment that is hostile on the ground of sex.

This refers to if other individuals have anticipated or could anticipate the possibility of offensive, intimidating or humiliating conduct within the workplace on the basis of sex.

The circumstances to be considered when determining whether the conduct is unlawful include: the seriousness of the conduct, whether the conduct was continuous or repetitive, the role, influence or authority of the person engaging in the conduct, and any other relevant circumstance.

  1. Changes to the powers and functions of the Australian Human Rights Commission: 12 December 2023

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will be empowered to promote and enforce the Positive Duty.

These powers include:

  • publishing guidelines, promoting public understanding, and undertaking research in relation to the Positive Duty
  • making inquiries into, and issu
  • e compliance notices in relation to a person’s compliance with the Positive Duty
  • applying to the Federal Court for an order directing a person to comply with a compliance notice in relation to the Positive Duty

How will this impact your business?

The Respect@Work website has a wealth of information for individuals and employers including providing a framework of good practice indicators to support both the prevention of and timely response to Workplace Sexual Harassment.

There are seven domains in the framework for workplaces to address sexual harassment:

  • Four for prevention – leadership, risk assessment and transparency, culture and knowledge; and
  • Three for response – support, reporting and measuring










Respect@Work Good Practice Indicators Framework

This recognises that a more holistic approach is necessary that looks beyond compliance. There are numerous tools and processes that can be utilised to measure and improve organisational leadership and organisational culture.  We look forward to sharing our innovative ways for diagnosing and customising action plans for our clients in this space.



How can TMS support your business?

TMS can support you and your teams through tailored training workshops, workplace culture reviews and general coaching.

We are also hosting a Webinar on how your organisational culture can influence how you implement Respect@Work if you’re interested in hearing more about this topic.

To learn more about how we can support your business or to register for the webinar, please contact us at  

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TMS Consulting