New anti-harassment powers commence with risk of compensation orders

Farmers need to be aware a the new area of legal risk.   The Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) have new powers that commenced from 12 December 2023, which require employers to comply with a duty to proactively prevent sexual harassment in their workplace.

Under changes to the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 that passed Parliament late last year, employers “must take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate” workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.

Under the new investigation and enforcement powers, the AHRC can:

  • Conduct inquiries into an employer’s compliance with the anti-harassment positive duty and provide recommendations to achieve compliance;
  • Issue compliance notices specifying actions that employers must or must not take to address non-compliance issues;
  • Apply to Federal Courts for an order to direct compliance with an AHRC-issued compliance notice; and
  • Enter into enforceable undertakings with an employer, where the employer “agrees to do, or refrain from doing, certain things”.
  • Issue compensation orders.

Farmers need to be aware that in addition to the AHRC, WorkSafe Victoria can also receive and investigate complaints of sexual harassment.

Famers are strongly encouraged to ensure that they have the appropriate policies and procedures in place, that they include these in their inductions, and that the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is tabled for discussion with employees and contractors.

Farmers needing further advice are encouraged to contact the Making Our Farms Safer team for assistance.