Urgent law reform needed to prevent sexual harassment at work

The SDA is proud to stand united in the Power to Prevent Coalition to call on the Australian Government to act now to prevent sexual harassment at work by implementing all remaining recommendations of the Respect@Work report.

In a formal submission to the Government’s consultation process which closed today, the Coalition has highlighted eight legislative reforms that can deliver on the Respect@Work plan for safe and gender-equal workplaces that are free from sexual harassment.

It includes the introduction of a positive duty on employers to stop sex discrimination and harassment before it happens, and new powers to be given to the Australian Human Rights Commission to investigate, monitor and enforce compliance.

The report also called for the Fair Work Act to be clarified to expressly prohibit sexual harassment as defined in the Sex Discrimination Act. The report also recommended that people who have been sexually harassed should be able to be supported by representative bodies to take legal action.

It also recommended that in situations where multiple people have been sexually harassed, that organisations be further empowered to make legal claims on their behalf.

Two years on from the Respect@Work report, we urge the Australian Government to address these remaining legislative reforms without further delay.

The Power to Prevent Coalition represents more than 60 diverse community organisations from around the country and across the health, family violence, business, union and legal sectors.

Every day, we see the impacts of sexual harassment and the failures of our systems to prevent it.

At least one in three Australians have been sexually harassed at work within the past five years.

Conducted by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, the report also highlighted the gendered and intersectional nature of workplace sexual harassment, and the disproportionate impacts on women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour, women living with disability, younger and older women, and women facing socioeconomic disadvantage, as well as LGBTIQ+ communities.



Everyone deserves to be safe at work and free from sexual harassment, but our current system is failing us. While sexual harassment is pervasive across all industries and all employment levels in Australia, it is not inevitable. We have the power to prevent it.

We call on the Australian Government to implement all remaining recommendations of the Respect@Work report in full and without further delay. This includes urgently amending our laws to create the following eight changes:

  1. Confirmation that one of the objects of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) is substantive equality – Recommendation 16(a)

  2. Amending the Sex Discrimination Act to prohibit the creation of a hostile, sexist working environment – Recommendation 16(c)

  3. A positive duty on all employers to take reasonable and proportionate steps to stop sex discrimination and sexual harassment – Recommendation 17

  4. New compliance and investigation powers for the Australian Human Rights Commission to enforce the positive duty – Recommendation 18

  5. A new inquiry power for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to investigate systemic sexual harassment – Recommendation 19

  6. A new process to allow representative bodies to bring actions to court on behalf of people who have been sexually harassed – Recommendation 23

  7. Creating an express prohibition on sexual harassment and an accessible new complaints process in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) – Recommendation 28

  8. A new Work Health and Safety Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment at Work – Recommendation 35

One of the core findings of Respect@Work was that our current laws are ‘simply no longer fit for purpose’ and should require employers to take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment.

Respect@Work highlighted the disproportionate impacts of sexual harassment on women, in particular on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour, women with disability, younger women, older women, low paid and insecurely employed women, and on LGBTIQ+ communities. It found that we must address gender inequity as the main driver of sexual harassment.

Two years on, we are deeply concerned that key recommendations from Respect@Work have still not been implemented. These sensible and practical changes to our laws must be made urgently to help create gender-equal and inclusive workplaces that are safe, respectful and equitable for everyone.

The Power2Prevent Coalition is a group of more than 60 diverse community organisations, unions, academics, peak bodies, health professionals, lawyers and victim-survivors. We see the effects of sexual harassment on people around Australia every day and how our systems are not responding to the issues.

We stand together to call for this urgent reform to prevent sexual harassment at work.