Last week, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 (Bill) passed both Houses and received Royal Assent.

The Bill operates to amend the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act), as well as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth).

Briefly summarised below are the key changes made to the FW Act under the Bill:

Sexual harassment a valid reason for dismissal

A note has been inserted into section 387 of the FW Act which expressly states that if a person sexually harasses another person in connection with their employment, this conduct can constitute a valid reason for the harasser’s dismissal. This supports the addition earlier this year of sexual harassment to the definition of “serious misconduct” under the FW Act and the Fair Work Regulations 2009 (Cth).

Grounds for taking compassionate leave broadened

The compassionate leave provisions of the FW Act have been broadened so that this leave can be taken by an employee if the employee or their spouse or de facto partner suffers a miscarriage. This is in addition to the changes introduced last year which allowed for compassionate leave to be taken in cases of stillbirth.

New protections for victims of sexual harassment at work

Perhaps the most important change under the Bill is the addition of a new “Stop Sexual Harassment” right under the FW Act. Similar to the “Stop Bullying” rights currently available under the FW Act, employees who have been sexually harassed at work will be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the sexual harassment. This change will not take effect until 11 November 2021.

The Bill also amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) by, among other things, expanding the sexual harassment protections thereunder to both paid and unpaid workers, contractors, interns and volunteers.

Employers and employees alike should be cognisant of the changes under the Bill. Employers in particular should ensure that appropriate discrimination and harassment policies are put in place and that training is provided to employees on these topics on a regular basis.