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Positive Duty under the Sex Discrimination Act

From 12 December 2023, the Australian Human Rights Commission has the power to enforce compliance by organisations and business with Positive Duty under the Sex Discrimination Act obligations.

Under the Sex Discrimination Act, organisations and businesses now have a positive duty to eliminate, as far as possible, the following unlawful behaviour from occurring:

  • discrimination on the grounds of sex in a work context
  • sexual harassment in connection with work
  • sex-based harassment in connection with work
  • conduct creating a workplace environment that is hostile on the grounds of sex
  • related acts of victimisation.

The Commission refers to this conduct as ‘relevant unlawful conduct’.

The new positive duty was introduced in December 2022. It imposes a legal obligation on organisations and businesses to take proactive and meaningful action to prevent relevant unlawful conduct from occurring in the workplace or in connection to work. Taking preventative action will help to create safe, respectful and inclusive workplaces.

This important change requires organisations and businesses to shift their focus to actively preventing workplace sexual harassment, sex discrimination and other relevant unlawful conduct, rather than responding only after it occurs.

Regardless of their size or resources, all organisations and businesses in Australia that have obligations under the Sex Discrimination Act must meet the positive duty. This includes sole traders and the self-employed, small, medium and large businesses, and government.

The positive duty was a key recommendation of the Commission’s landmark Respect@Work Report, led by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins AO, published in March 2020.

The Commission has developed practical guidance materials to help organisations and businesses to understand their responsibilities and the changes they may need to make to meet these new legal obligations.

Need to understand what obligations you carry as an employer? You could do the detective work yourself but who really has time for that? The smarter alternative? Get your own detective. At Bare Bones Consulting we admit to knowing zip about actual police work but we know HR and how to keep things simple and relevant to your business. Why not give us a call or send us an email by clicking here? Case closed!

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