Sexual Harassment in Australian workplaces: a call for law reform

Community Legal Centres have released a comprehensive report, #MeToo: Legal Responses to Sexual Harassment at Work, calling for harsher penalties and an overhaul of "broken" laws to protect workers.

The report details the endemic nature of sexual harassment in workplaces across Australia, and suggests key reforms to reduce sexual harassment, increase reporting, and radically change workplace culture.

Sharmilla Bargon, Employment Law solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre, said reports at work were “skyrocketing”.

“The escalating levels of sexual harassment we’re seeing have completely blown out and are simply unacceptable. We regularly advise clients who have been sexually harassed and are then fired or bullied when they report it,” she said.

“We also know that women with disability, LGBTQ+ people, Indigenous women, young people and women of colour are more likely to experience sexual harassment.”

The report says that the burden on individual complainants to address sexual harassment needs to be shifted to workplaces. This needs the commitment of work health and safety agencies and other regulators, as well as the implementation of education programs in individual workplaces to promote a culture where sexual harassment is not permitted. The report also calls for stronger civil penalties for employers who fail to take action when complaints are made.

“We need harsher penalties for employers who refuse to institute transparent and effective complaints procedures, and who victimise complainants rather than disciplining perpetrators,” Sharmilla Bargon said.

The #MeToo report, which makes 46 recomendations to reform workplace culture and strengthen protections for workers experiencing sexual harassment, has been submitted to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Download the report here.

Read more here (The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 2019)

See also: Sexual harassment at work: Claire's story

If you have been bullied or sexually harassed at work, contact Redfern Legal Centre for free, confidential legal advice on 9698 7277.