Respect​@Work

The Respect​@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (the report) was published following the inquiry led by Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. According to the report, ‘almost two in five women (39%) and just over one in four men (26%) have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years.’

On 11 September 2021, the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) was updated with new provisions to address sexual harassment at work. The changes aim to make sure workers are protected and empowered to address sexual harassment at work.

The ABCC is committed to tackling sexual harassment in the building and construction industry. Everyone has the right to a workplace that is safe and free from sexual harassment. Employers have an obligation to manage the health and safety risks of workplace sexual harassment. ABC Commissioner, Stephen McBurney, is an associate member of the Respect​@Work Council.

We will continue to update the information on this page in light of the changes to the FW Act. We encourage you to keep checking back here for updates. You can also read the full report on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

Sexual harassment and the building and construction industry

According to Deloitte Access Economics modelling in the report, sexual harassment cost the Australian economy $3.8 billion in 2018 (of which $2.6 billion was in lost productivity). The building and construction industry accounted for $171.8 million in lost productivity costs and was among the highest contributors for lost wellbeing.

The report noted that the construction industry was one of the most male-dominated industries in Australia, with women making up only 12% of the construction workforce. Gender inequality was highlighted in the report as the key power disparity that drives sexual harassment. Male-dominated workplace settings represent a higher risk of experiencing sexual harassment, because of:

  • the gender ratio
  • the over-representation of men in senior leadership roles
  • the nature of the work being considered ‘non-traditional’ for women
  • the masculine workplace culture.

The rate of sexual harassment overall was 17% for women and men in the building and construction industry, which is lower than the rate of 31% across all industries.

However, 51% of women in the building and construction industry reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. This is four times the rate of men in the construction industry, 12% of whom report to have experienced sexual harassment.

Compared to all other industries, the construction industry also had a higher average number of harassers per incidents at 2.1 compared to 1.7.

New sexual harassment protections

On 11 September 2021, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021 (Respect at Work amendments) took effect. The Respect at Work amendments update the FW Act to address sexual harassment at work.

The changes aim to make sure that workers are protected and empowered to address sexual harassment at work. The changes include:

  • introduction of stop sexual harassment orders
  • defining sexual harassment
  • clarifying that sexual harassment of another person in connection with employment can be a valid reason for dismissal.

You can read more about these changes below.

Stop sexual harassment orders

The Respect at Work amendments expand the existing FW Act provisions dealing with orders to stop bullying at work to include orders to stop sexual harassment. An eligible worker who believes they’ve been sexually harassed at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the sexual harassment.

Eligible workers can make these applications from 11 November 2021.

Visit the FWC’s website for more information.

Definition of sexual harassment

The Respect at Work amendments introduce a definition of sexual harassment into the FW Act.

A person sexually harasses another person if they:

  • make an unwelcome sexual advance
  • make an unwelcome request for sexual favours
  • engage in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature towards another person. This includes making written or verbal statements of a sexual nature to, or in the presence of, another person.

For a person to have sexually harassed someone, it has to be reasonable to expect that in the situation, there is a possibility their behaviour would offend, humiliate or intimidate the other person. The relevant circumstances need to be taken into account.

A person could also be sexually harassed by being exposed to or witnessing this kind of behaviour. This may include overhearing a conversation or seeing a sexually explicit poster in the workplace.

Serious misconduct and dismissal

The Respect at Work amendments confirm that sexual harassment at work is a form of misconduct and can be a valid reason for dismissal under the FW Act. Sexual harassment can also be serious misconduct that can result in dismissal without notice.

Miscarriage, stillbirth and compassionate leave

The Respect at Work amendments extended compassionate leave to include miscarriage. Employees can take up to two days of paid compassionate leave (unpaid for casuals) if they or their current spouse or de facto partner has a miscarriage.

Employees are also entitled to compassionate leave if they experience a stillbirth of a child who was, or would have been, an immediate family or household member of the employee.e.

Protections from sexual harassment

Everyone has the right to a workplace that is safe and free from sexual harassment.

Protections under the Fair Work Act

It is unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee or against a prospective employee because of personal attributes protected by the FW Act. Protected attributes include a person’s sex and sexual orientation. It is also unlawful for certain persons, including employers, to take adverse action because of someone’s workplace rights, including because they have made or propose to make a complaint. For more information see – Discrimination, harassment and bullying.

In addition, eligible workers can seek orders to stop sexual harassment under the FW Act Eligible workers include:

  • an employee
  • a contractor or subcontractor
  • an outworker
  • an apprentice or a trainee
  • an intern
  • a student gaining work experience
  • some volunteers.

Protections under work health and safety laws

A person conducting a business, such as an employer, has a duty to manage the health and safety risks of workplace sexual harassment.

More information and resources are available from Safe Work Australia about what sexual harassment can look like and how to prevent and respond to reports of sexual harassment in the workplace under work health and safety laws.

Each state and territory has a workplace health and safety body that can provide advice and assistance about workplace sexual harassment. You can also contact your state or territory workplace health and safety body for help.

Preventing sexual harassment

Workplaces can help prevent sexual harassment by:

  • creating a safe physical and online working environment
  • providing information, instruction, training and support about the importance of preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace
  • addressing unwanted or offensive behaviour early
  • encouraging reporting of sexual harassment and having an effective complaints procedure.

More information and resources are available about how to prevent and respond to reports of sexual harassment in the workplace from:

For further information visit the Safe Work Australia website, which includes a Preventing workplace sexual harassment guide for employers.

Getting help

If you think sexual harassment has happened (or is happening) at your workplace, you can talk to:

  • a supervisor or manager
  • a health and safety representative
  • the human resources department
  • a union
  • a lawyer.

If you think your employer has taken adverse action against you, including because you reported sexual harassment at work, you can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman to find out more on protections at work.

You can also contact your state or territory workplace health and safety body for help.

The ABCC can provide advice and assistance to any building industry participant through our hotline or web enquiry form. Our staff will be able to assist in determining whether complaints falls within the ABCC’s jurisdiction or assist in referring enquiries to the relevant agency.

You can contact us by calling our hotline on 1800 003 338 or submitting through our web enquiry form. Our hotline operates from 7 AM – 7 PM AEDT Monday to Friday, except on public holidays.

Support services

If you feel unsafe now, call 000.

If there is no immediate danger, but you need police assistance, call 131 444.

Some forms of sexual harassment are criminal conduct.

If you have experienced criminal conduct and feel you would like to make a complaint or report to the police, you can contact your relevant state or territory police.

Sexual assault support services

If you have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment and feel you would like to speak to someone for support or information, 1800RESPECT (Phone: 1800 737 732) can provide counselling 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

Mental health support services

Lifeline
24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention.
Phone: 13 11 14
Website: www.lifeline.org.au 

Beyond Blue
Australia’s most well-known and visited mental health organisation, focused on supporting people affected by anxiety, depression and suicide.
Phone: 1300 224 636
Website: www.beyondblue.org.au

Miscarriage support services

Sands
An independent organisation that provides support for newborn death, stillbirth and miscarriage.
Phone: 1300 308 307
Website: www.sands.org.au 

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