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Sexual harassment overhaul targets offenders’ bonuses, pay rises

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“It can also work negatively – people become ineligible for bonuses if they are found to have engaged in substantial acts of relevant illegal behaviour,” said the statement, the adding smaller incentives to promote engagement on workplace issues is common.

Bonuses and pay rises could be withheld from employees and managers who misbehave under new workplace laws.Credits: James Davies

“For example, offering a gift voucher prize for the best idea from workers about how to promote a safe and respectful culture in their workplace.”

Employers who fail to protect workers from sexual harassment could also be named under new powers given to the commission, which can investigate whether a company is in compliance, issue a compliance notice and apply to enforce that court notice.

University of NSW associate professor Sue Williamson, an expert on gender equality in the workplace, supported the commission’s proposal, saying financial incentives were a valid way of changing behaviour.

“Altruism is a good thing, but I don’t think it has reached us enough,” Williamson said. “The use of financial incentives is to give people a little more prompt besides just doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”


The Australian Institute of Company Directors also supported tying pay packets to respectful behaviour, while a Diversity Council of Australia spokesperson agreed the money was used to “spin” people in organizations towards more included.

Tony Wood, a senior partner at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills’ industrial relations team, likens it to the practice of withholding bonuses for serious injuries arising from occupational health and safety breaches.

“If you look at sexual harassment in the workplace as a health and safety issue, you say, why not use a similar approach?” he said.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s director of workplace relations, Jessica Tinsley, warned that the government must ensure that businesses, especially small businesses, have the resources to properly understand their obligations.


“We know that a positive duty to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace already exists under employment, health and safety laws. Employers will need help understanding their overlapping obligations, otherwise this complexity will lead to lower compliance rates,” he said.

Katherine Berney, director of the National Women’s Safety Alliance, said the challenge is to make the law’s intent “real” to the average worker.

“Your KPMGs will be all right in the world, but the problem is your laundromat out there [Sydney suburb] Punchbowl. How can workers understand that they have these protections?” he said, raising social media campaigns as an important way to reach people.

The law shifts the responsibility of preventing sexual harassment and other abusive practices from a complaints-based system to one in which employers are obligated to be proactive.

In its broad guidelines published ahead of the law’s implementation, the commission said employers must uphold seven standards to comply with affirmative action requirements, including ensuring leaders know their responsibilities, promoting a safe culture, appropriate risk management and ensuring support for staff. .

Other examples of compliance verification proposed by the commission include calling out sexist commentary, providing guard training and providing awards for positive behavior.

Bakers Delight was named in breach of Victoria’s affirmative action laws last year following a three-year investigation by that state’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

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