Preventing Sexual Harassment in Work: Exploring the Promise of Work Health and Safety Laws
(2019) 32(2) Australian Journal of Labour Law 219
31 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2018 Last revised: 17 Jan 2020
Date Written: 2019
Despite a growing consensus that sexual harassment is wrong, it continues to be remarkably prevalent in Australian workplaces. Sex discrimination laws which were expressly designed to prohibit this behaviour have operated for several decades, yet the problem still persists. Anti-discrimination laws (ADL) have been effective to a point, but are limited by their individual and complaints-based regulatory framework. The question therefore arises: might other laws play a role in addressing this problem more effectively?
In this article we explore the promise of work health and safety (WHS) laws in addressing sexual harassment in work. WHS laws impose obligations to prevent harm to workplace participants, including psychological harm. Our thesis is that this harm-prevention approach can complement the existing ADL individual redress scheme and prove an effective tool at preventing sexual harassment by tackling its antecedents in workplace cultures. However the promise of WHS laws in preventing sexual harassment can only be realised if WHS agencies acknowledge this remit and are equipped to deal with it.
Keywords: sexual harassment, work health and safety law, anti-discrimination law, workplace, employment
JEL Classification: K31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation