Compliance & Ethics
Simon Berglund Image
Simon Berglund
Senior Vice President & General Manager, Asia Pacific

How compliance teams can proactively navigate Australia’s new workplace harassment regulations

February 8, 2024
0 min read
Compliance team discussing Australia’s new workplace harassment regulations

In December 2022, Australia introduced a new law aimed at preventing workplace sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimisation, which went into effect in December of 2023. This landmark legislation places a positive duty on employers and persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to eliminate these forms of misconduct. Compliance officers and their team play a crucial role in ensuring their organisations adhere to these new legal obligations. To effectively navigate this complex landscape, it is essential to leverage a comprehensive governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) program.

Understanding the law

The Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Act 2022 amended the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to introduce a positive duty on employers and PCBUs. The key aspects of the law include:

  1. Proactive prevention of workplace sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and victimisation: Employers and PCBUs are legally obligated to take proactive and meaningful action to prevent workplace sexual harassment, sex discrimination, sex-based harassment and victimisation. This shift from a reactive to a preventive approach emphasises the importance of creating a safe and inclusive work environment.
  2. Regulatory powers and compliance: The Australian Human Rights Commission has been granted new regulatory powers to investigate and enforce compliance. Employers and PCBUs must adapt their practices to meet the new legal obligations. As noted above, compliance efforts should focus on preventing misconduct, rather than solely responding to incidents.
  3. Transition period: Recognising the need for organisations to make necessary changes, the Commission's compliance powers only commenced in December 2023. Workplaces that have not already implemented changes to create safer environments are now in violation of the new legislation and may face steep penalties.

The role of the compliance team

Compliance officers and their teams now face the challenge of effectively implementing (if they haven’t done already) and monitoring compliance with the new law. A credible and defensible compliance programme, aided by purpose-built technology, is a must:

  1. Compliance training: To proactively prevent harassment, workplaces should provide compliance and ethics training programs built on behavior-change science. These programs ensure that employees are equipped with the knowledge and skills to make ethical choices in any situation. By fostering a culture of ethics and compliance, organisations can mitigate the risk of misconduct.
  2. Policy management: Compliance teams must provide employees with clarity and transparency around harassment policies, while simultaneously streamlining the way the compliance team manages policies’ evolution. A centralised, technology-enabled approach to policy management reduces the time and costs associated with maintaining policies, ensuring that they are up-to-date, accessible and effectively communicated to all employees.
  3. Third-party risk management: Adopting a continuous risk-based approach to monitoring third-party business relationships is crucial in today's regulatory landscape. Doing so enables organisations to assess, monitor and mitigate risks associated with their business partners and suppliers. This proactive approach helps workplaces stay ahead of evolving regulatory requirements and safeguard against potential compliance breaches.
  4. Regulatory compliance management: Only an end-to-end compliance management solution can centralise tracking, automate risk prioritisation and provide predictive risk insights – offering compliance teams a seamless way to monitor and manage compliance obligations effectively, even as those obligations evolve.

New pressures require new solutions

Australia's new law on workplace sexual harassment places a significant responsibility on employers, their contractors and PCBUs to prevent misconduct and create safe work environments. Compliance officers and their teams must prioritise compliance efforts that meet these legal obligations. Leveraging a GRC technology solution like the Diligent One Platform can greatly assist in achieving these compliance goals. By utilising Diligent's compliance and ethics training, policy management and third-party risk management applications, organisations can demonstrate their commitment to ethical conduct and ensure compliance with the new harassment law – not to mention new laws as they are enacted. Stay ahead of the regulatory landscape and protect your organisation by embracing the power of unified GRC.


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