Government's response to the Ministerial Taskforce on workplace sexual harassment

On 11 July 2022, the Victorian Government published its response to the Ministerial Taskforce on Workplace Sexual Harassment (Taskforce) and there are likely to be significant reforms in this area.

Friday, 15 July 2022 at 12:07 am

What is the Ministerial Taskforce?

On 8 March 2021, the Victorian Government established the Taskforce to develop reforms for sexual harassment in workplaces, focussing on the following areas:  

  • preventing sexual harassment
  • supporting workers to report sexual harassment
  • enforcing compliance when there is a breach of health and safety duties
  • raising awareness and promoting accountability in workplaces across Victoria.

The Taskforce comprised industry and community representatives, including union and employer representatives, legal representatives, and advocates of groups disproportionately affected by sexual harassment.

The Taskforce made 26 recommendations, 12 of which have been accepted by the Victorian Government.    

Key areas for reform

Some of the key recommendations that have been accepted (or accepted in principle) by the Victorian Government:

  • That work-related gendered violence and workplace sexual harassment are treated as an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue, and that WorkSafe takes a lead role in preventing and responding to these issues, including expanding its WorkWell program to include a dedicated stream to prevent work-related gendered violence and workplace sexual harassment, codifying existing guidance on these issues, implementing industry specific guidance and increasing its enforcement capabilities in the psychosocial inspectorate.  The Victorian Government will provide $6.9 million over 3 years to expand the WorkWell program and develop a joint enforcement strategy between WorkSafe and VEOHRC.  
  • The introduction of legislative amendments to restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in relation to workplace sexual harassment in Victoria.  While this recommendation was only accepted in-principle, Workplace Safety Minister Ingrid Stitt has pledged to undertake consultation with victims, unions, business and lawyers before introducing a draft bill to parliament.[1]
  • A new employer de-identified reporting requirement for psychological health hazards (this will be implemented as part of the psychological health regulations that WorkSafe is currently developing).[2]
  • That the Victorian Government pilot a restorative justice service (RJS) alternative dispute resolution model to address workplace sexual harassment in the Victorian public sector, particularly in high-risk departments and services. 

Other reforms raised by the Taskforce

Other recommendations made that the Victorian Government has stated require further consideration:

  • The introduction of legislative amendments to enable workers and unions to initiate civil remedy proceedings for breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) and to allow unions to commence representative claims on behalf of its members under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). (The Victorian Government noted that this recommendation was beyond workplace sexual harassment and require significant consideration.)
  • The introduction of mandatory incident notifications for workplace sexual harassment as part of employer reporting obligations. 
  • In relation to the public sector, that the industrial relations power referred to the Commonwealth should be extended to cover bullying and sexual harassment matters. This would allow public sector employees to apply for orders and seek other remedies at the Fair Work Commission.  

What it means for you

It is likely that WorkSafe will be more active in exercising its investigative and enforcement powers where there are allegations of work-related gendered violence and workplace sexual harassment and that, along with psychosocial issues more generally, this will be an increasing area of focus for WorkSafe.

The use of NDAs is also likely to be significantly curtailed so we recommend reflecting on your organisation's practice in relation to the use of NDAs.

Public sector employers should keep a close eye on any new reporting obligations imposed by the upcoming psychological health OHS regulations. 

Read the Taskforce's recommendations and the Victorian Government's response to them.

Contact our team

Please get in touch with our team if you need assistance with OHS and employment matters. 

[1] See media report: Sumeyya Ilanbey, Victoria to restrict deals silencing sexual harassment victims (The Age, 11 July 2022) 

[2] WorkSafe has prepared the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations