Recently the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (IR Act) has been amended by the Industrial Relations and Other Legislation Act 2022 (Qld). The amendments give effect to the Queensland Government’s response to the Respect@work Report which was released by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2020.
The Respect@work Report conducted surveys on the national experience of sexual harassment. It concluded that sexual harassment is not a woman’s issue; it’s a social issue, which every Australian and every Australian workplace, contribute to addressing.
The Respect@work Report found that the current legal and regulatory system is no longer fit for purpose and that serious changes were needed.
The Queensland Government has responded appropriately, and as such amendments were made to the IR Act. Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said the Industrial Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 delivers on the Palaszczuk Government’s commitment to providing important protections for workers.
Sexual Harassment Now An Industrial Dispute
The amendments see the IR Act adopt the established definition of sexual harassment which is contained in the Antidiscrimination Act 1991 (Qld) and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). Previously, if an individual experienced unwelcome conduct of a demeaning nature on the basis of their sex or gender a complaint could be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission or Queensland Human Rights Commission.
The IR Act has amended the definition of “industrial matter” to now include sexual, sex or gender-based harassment of an employee in the workplace or during the employee’s employment.
This allows employees to now make complaints to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (Commission) about workplace sexual, sex-based or gender-based harassment as an industrial dispute. This expedites matters being referred to the Commission and allows the Commission to grant injunctive relief to prevent or settle a dispute. Therefore, providing an additional layer of protection to any aggrieved person.
Amendments to Unfair Dismissal laws
The Commission also now has the power to decide if a dismissal was not unfair if an employee engaged in sexual, sex or gender-based harassment. The definition of misconduct in Section 120 of the IR Act has also been amended to include sexual, sex-based or gender-based harassment.
This means that if an employee has engaged in conduct which would be considered sexual, sex or gender-based harassment they can be lawfully terminated following an investigation and substantiation of allegations regardless of the severity of the conduct and employers who are governed by the IR Act will be afforded protections under Section 320.
Changing for the Better
Since the 2020 Respect@work Report, there has been a clear shift in standards in the workplace. It is now essential that as employers you review your policies and ensure training is up to date for all your employees. This will not only protect your employees from being subjected to sexual harassment or sex or gender-based harassment but also protect you from any claims for taking action against your employees for engaging in these types of behaviours.
If you would like any assistance reviewing your policies or implementing training please contact us.