On 21 October 2021 MP Deborah Russell’s Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill (Bill) was introduced to Parliament, after being selected from the Members bills ballot for debate.
The Bill seeks to extend the time limit for an employee to raise a personal grievance alleging sexual harassment from the usual 90 days to 1 year.
In a policy statement supporting the Bill, Russell said that the Bill recognises that sexual harassment differs in many ways from other employment grievances as coming forward to report sexual harassment can be difficult and it is common for victims to take time to consider what has happened and whether it is safe to speak up.
The bill has had widespread support, but commentators wonder if it could go further. Graeme Colgan, a former Chief Judge of the Employment Court, explains that “[the] 12-month period is a good balance [between 90 days and the six years available to bring breach of contract claims] but it should include those other types of grievance where there’s a similar pattern of conduct, where it’s not a one-off disadvantage but one that builds up gradually”, such as racial harassment.
The ADLS Employment Law Committee has also reported that while it is in favour of the Bill, many members are keen to see that it also includes bullying claims.
To incorporate bullying claims, the scope of the Bill would either have to be extended to include unjustified actions causing disadvantage (as there is currently no grievance available solely for ‘bullying’) or set out a statutory definition of bullying, which would be helpful for employees and employers as none currently exists.
The Bill is currently in its First Reading, in which MPs will debate and vote on the Bill. If successful, it will most likely be sent to a select committee which will include public submissions.