On Wednesday 18 May 2022 the Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill (Bill) had its first reading in Parliament. The Bill proposes to extend the time available to an employee to raise a personal grievance that involves allegations of sexual harassment from 90 days to 12 months.
The purpose of the Bill is to improve the personal grievance process for victims of workplace sexual harassment by allowing them sufficient time to consider what has happened before deciding to raise a grievance.
According to the Explanatory note of the Bill, extending the timeline to raise a personal grievance for sexual harassment aims to address and respond to the following issues:
- The difficulties of reporting sexual harassment due to the nature of the issue;
- The common pattern of victims of sexual harassment waiting a long time to come forward to discuss the matter for a number of reasons;
- The fact that, for a person who has been the subject of sexual harassment, 90 days may not be enough time to raise a grievance as it can take some time to consider what has occurred and to feel safe to raise the matter with other people; and
- The 90-day deadline imposes an arbitrary deadline on victims of workplace sexual harassment and makes it less likely that the victim can formally raise concerns about the behaviour of colleagues.
Dr Deborah Russell, introducer of the Bill, noted in the first reading that the Bill deals with the complex and difficult nature of sexual harassment in the workplace. She highlighted that people are often reticent about sexual matters and that power dynamics in the workplace continue to perpetuate the hesitation to discuss instances of sexual harassment. As a result, an extension on the timeline to raise a personal grievance related to sexual harassment is more likely to support an employee to speak up about the issue.
The Bill has now progressed to the Select Committee stage and is being reviewed by the Education and Workforce Committee. There is no timeline for when the Bill may, or may not, become law. The introduction and support of this Bill, however, indicates Parliament’s continued intention to address the culture of silence that sexual harassment in the workplace imports. Such a change may require employers to reassess any workplace policies regarding sexual harassment in due course. We will keep you updated as the Bill progresses.