Navigating New Sexual Harassment Legislation: Key Obligations for Employers in Australia and Mitigating Psychosocial Risks



Sexual harassment remains a pervasive issue in workplaces around the world, causing significant harm to individuals and organisational culture. Recognising the importance of addressing this problem, Australia has introduced new sexual harassment legislation aimed at ensuring safer and more inclusive work environments. As an employer, it is crucial to understand the key obligations under the legislation and actively mitigate psychosocial risks. In this blog post, we will explore the essential points employers need to be aware of regarding the new sexual harassment legislation in Australia, along with strategies to address psychosocial risks in the workplace.

Key Obligations under the New Sexual Harassment Legislation

  1. Definition and Prohibited Conduct: The new legislation in Australia broadens the definition of sexual harassment, emphasising that it extends beyond the traditional employer-employee relationship. Employers must be aware that the legislation prohibits any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
  2. Duty of Care: Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of their employees. The new legislation explicitly recognises that sexual harassment can cause harm and imposes an obligation on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent and respond to incidents promptly. This includes implementing policies, procedures, and training programs to address and prevent sexual harassment.
  3. Increased Penalties: The new legislation introduces increased penalties for non-compliance with the law. Employers found to be in breach may face substantial fines, along with reputational damage. It is crucial for employers to understand the potential consequences of failing to meet their obligations and take proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Mitigating Psychosocial Risks in the Workplace

  1. Promote a Culture of Respect: Develop a culture of respect and equality within your organisation. This can be achieved by developing and implementing clear policies and procedures that explicitly condemn sexual harassment. Regular communication and training sessions can help raise awareness and educate employees about their rights and responsibilities. As equally as valid, is the need for informal team building exercises.
  2. Proactive identification of potential hazards: that is, identifying if there are areas, teams, departments in the business that may has an increased potential for sexual harassment to occur. Employers need to identify these hazards, assess the risk and implement measures to control the risks.
  3. Establish Complaints Mechanisms: Employers should establish robust complaints mechanisms that provide employees with safe and confidential channels to report incidents of sexual harassment. It is crucial to take all complaints seriously and conduct thorough investigations to ensure a fair and unbiased resolution.
  4. Training and Education: Regular training sessions on preventing sexual harassment are essential to equip employees and managers with the knowledge and skills to identify, prevent, and address instances of sexual harassment. Training should cover topics such as appropriate workplace behaviour, and the legal consequences of sexual harassment, handing difficult conversations, managing conflict in the workplace and managing mental health.  Feel free to reach out and ResolveHR can explore your specific situation and requirements.
  5. Leadership Accountability: Leaders and managers play a critical role in setting the tone for the organisation. Employers must hold leaders accountable for their actions and ensure they actively support a respectful and inclusive workplace culture. Leading by example and fostering open lines of communication can encourage employees to come forward with concerns. It may be pertinent for business owners to think about having a program which incorporates performance appraisals, engagement and culture surveys, and also – if a situation is quite serious: to also run independent focus groups.
  6. Regular Review of Policies: Employers should review and update their policies and procedures regularly to ensure they remain compliant with the evolving legislative landscape. This includes revisiting training programs and adapting them to address emerging issues and changing expectations.


The new sexual harassment legislation in Australia places a heightened focus on preventing and addressing instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers have a responsibility to understand their obligations and take proactive steps to create safer and more inclusive work environments. By fostering a culture of respect, establishing robust complaints mechanisms, providing training and education, holding leaders accountable, and regularly reviewing policies, employers can mitigate psychosocial risks and contribute to a workplace free from sexual harassment. By doing so we create workplaces that prioritise the safety and well-being of all employees.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not only toxic, but illegal and navigating through these problems is not simple. Given the complexity of individual personalities, setting the right tone and culture and understanding where your problems are is essential.

As they say: from little things, big things grow.

Reach out and we can work with you to explore your specific situation and requirements.


  1. Australian Government – Australian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report. Retrieved from
  2. Safe Work Australia. (n.d.). Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work. Retrieved from
  3. Australian Government – Fair Work Ombudsman. (n.d.). Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from

Nick Hedges is the founder of Resolve HR, a Sydney-based HR consultancy specialising in providing workplace advice to managers and business owners. He recently published his first book, “Exiting underperforming Team Members – The Inside Scoop”. It is a practical response to the most pressing HR challenges, which can be found at

Disclaimer: The contents written do not constitute legal advice and does not cater for individual circumstances.   The information contained herein is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

Add Comment