In our submission to the National Inquiry into Workplace Sexual Harassment, we call for the ‘positive duty’ under the Equal Opportunity Act to be made enforceable. Doing so would make employers, educators, providers of goods and services, and others accountable for not just dealing with complaints when they arise, but for proactively preventing sexual harassment from occurring.
We are also calling for increased powers to investigate possible contraventions of the Equal Opportunity Act and to undertake own-motion public inquiries, as well as the power to seek enforceable undertakings and issue compliance notices to remedy a breach and hold employers to account.
Our five-point plan
As part of our submission, we’ve developed a five-point plan – a roadmap for addressing sexual harassment at work. We recommend legislative change, strengthened victim-centric responses and tailored prevention programs that promote cultural change and respectful workplaces.
Acknowledge sexual harassment is a symptom of gender inequality and a form of violence against women
Responses to sexual harassment should address its root causes, including discrimination, stereotyping and other gendered attitudes.
Existing programs and strategies that address violence against women should include a focus on sexual harassment.
A robust gender equality law that promotes substantive equality at work should be enacted and integrated into a national prevention strategy with dedicated investment.
Strengthen the legal framework and reduce the burden on victims to enforce the law
Anti-discrimination commissions should be empowered to conduct own-motion investigations and inquiries into sexual harassment at work (as well as other matters of public interest), to shine a light on systemic issues related to sexual harassment, without the need for victims to come forward with a formal complaint.
A breach of employers’ positive duty in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment (as well as discrimination and victimisation) should be actionable and the Commission’s previous compulsion and enforcement powers reinstated (including the power to compel the production of information or documents, seek enforceable undertakings and issue compliance notices).
Regulators with oversight of sexual harassment should continue to work cooperatively to share information and provide effective support and referrals to victims. Regulators and employers should work together to build capacity in relation to sexual harassment, including as a work health and safety issue.
Develop and invest in best practice victim-centric dispute resolution
Further investment in anti-discrimination commissions’ enquiry and dispute resolution services is needed to address barriers to reporting and enable the timely, flexible and transparent resolution of complaints.
Anti-discrimination commissions should offer restorative justice pathways for victims and be resourced to develop user-designed online platforms, improve data collection and pilot anonymous reporting.
Time frames for lodging complaints should be extended to six years.
Address the heightened vulnerability of some groups to sexual harassment
Some people are more vulnerable to sexual harassment at work than others. For example, women with disabilities and women from multicultural and multifaith groups, alongside lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, may experience multiple and related forms of sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation at work.
Research is needed to better understand sexual harassment against diverse and marginalised groups and promote their needs.
Models for reporting sexual harassment should be accessible to everyone and allow people to report anonymously.
Programs and strategies to address sexual harassment at work should include a focus on groups with a heightened vulnerability to sexual harassment and be built into broader workplace diversity strategies.
Support workplaces to create respectful cultures and prevent sexual harassment
User-designed educational packages tailored to workplaces’ unique circumstances provide the best opportunity to create cultures that reject sexual harassment.
Education packages should include carrying out policy health checks, delivering and evaluating training at every organisational level, equipping managers to develop and implement action plans with robust and measurable goals, addressing backlash, supporting bystanders and ensuring continuous improvement.
Our other work on gender equality
The Commission’s four strategic priorities are: embedding a human rights culture, improving workplace equality, protecting human rights in closed environments and reducing racism.
These priorities drive our vision for a fair, safe and inclusive Victoria.
In the area of improving workplace equality, we have committed to:
- contributing to Victorian Government initiatives and committees designed to prevent and respond to gender inequality
- partnering with employers through our education and consultancy service to identify the drivers for workplace inequality and implement structural and cultural changes to increase equality and diversity
- providing victims of sex discrimination and sexual harassment with a confidential, accessible and effective conciliation process to resolve complaints
- continuing our landmark independent review work into the nature, prevalence and impact of discrimination and sexual harassment in key sectors.
We have identified the workplace as an important setting to address sex discrimination and sexual harassment, and promote gender equality. However, our work covers all areas of public life, such as the provision of goods and services, education, sport and the provision of accommodation.
We also seek to address gender inequality through our work to realise our three remaining strategic priorities.
Examples of our work on gender equality
- Independent Review into sex discrimination and sexual harassment, including predatory behaviour, in Victoria Police
- Raise it! Conversations about sexual harassment and workplace equality
- Consultancy work
- Information on sex discrimination and sexual harassment
Contact the Commission
Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.
To make a complaint:
- call our Enquiry Line on 1300 292 153 or email [email protected]. We also have a free interpreter service
- submit your complaint online or download our complaint form (DOC, 230KB)
- chat to us online
Find out more about making a complaint.