On 14 June 2024 new laws, namely the Respect at Work and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2024 (Qld), were introduced to Parliament providing enhanced protections for Queensland workers from discrimination, vilification, sexual harassment, victimisation and other unlawful behaviours. The Respect at Work and Other Matters Amendment Bill builds on the historic Respect@Work Report and Queensland’s Plan for the Primary Prevention of Violence Against Women calling for greater consistency with federal sex discrimination legislation, providing greater protection against sex-based discrimination and harassment to Queensland workers especially women.

In summary, the Queensland Bill proposes to:

  • Introduce a new positive duty that requires duty holders to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination on the basis of all protected attributes, as well as sexual harassment, harassment on the basis of sex and other objectionable conduct (namely, the conduct covered by the federal Respect@Work obligations). This is broader than the existing positive duty under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984(Cth). For example, if passed in its current form, Queensland employers will have a positive duty to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination based on race, age, etc
  • Add specific protections against workplace harassment on the basis of sex, or creating a hostile work environment on the basis of sex.
  • Extend the timeframe for complaints of work-related contraventions on the basis of sex to two years (but no change for other types of complaints).
  • Introduce new protected attributes of “family, carer or kinship responsibilities’, ‘expunged conviction’, ‘homelessness’, ‘irrelevant criminal record’, ‘irrelevant medical record’, ‘physical appearance’ (which would include, for example, racial or religious tattoos) and ‘subjection to domestic or family violence’, and amend others.
  • Expand the QHRC’s functions and powers to investigate compliance with the positive duty or suspected systemic contraventions, and take enforcement action.
  • Introduce new vilification provisions (conduct that is hateful, reviling, seriously contemptuous or seriously ridiculing) in the areas of age, gender identity, impairment, race, religion, sex, sex characteristics or sexual orientation.  Presently, these provisions only apply in the areas of race, religion, sexuality, sex characteristics or gender identity.  The test has also been clarified to now be whether a reasonable person (with the particular attribute) would consider the public act to be hateful, reviling, seriously contemptuous or seriously ridiculing.  The existing exemptions in the Act will continue to apply (i.e. the public act is done reasonably and in good faith, for academic, artistic, scientific or research purposes, or for other purposes in the public interest, including public discussion or debate).
  • Impose a positive duty on Qld businesses (including schools) to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment.  This will include a “reasonable and proportionate test”, having regard to:
    • the size, nature and circumstances of the business
    • the resources of the business, whether financial or otherwise
    • the practicability and the cost of the measure
    • the business and operational priorities
    • any other relevant matter
  • Workers will also be protected from violent interactions with customers due to amendments to the Penalties and Sentences Act. If passed a person being sentenced for an assault committed against a person in the workplace will be subject to an aggravated sentencing factor.

Other changes proposed in the draft consultation bill in March this year, notably changes to exemptions enjoyed by faith-based schools, are on hold and unlikely to be passed in this term of government. The Bill has been referred to Committee, due to report back to parliament by 2 August 2024.

What protective measures should Queensland businesses introduce to ensure compliance with the positive duty?

  • Review and updated workplace policies to ensure they reflect person-centred and trauma-informed approaches, and legislative amendments to definitions (including sex-based harassment and other conduct that could create a hostile workplace environment on the basis of sex and, if the Bill is passed in its current form, discrimination on the basis of the new and amended protected attributes).
    • Review and update policies on family and domestic violence and flexible working arrangements is recommended as a matter of priority.
  • Review workplace training to ensure it complies with new and expanded protected attributes under the Fair Work Act, Sex Discrimination Act, those proposed in the Bill. Training would include reasonable and proportionate steps needed to discharge the positive duty including bystander obligations for staff.

Note also that QHRC has the power to educate regarding this positive duty, investigate breaches of the duty, accept undertakings from a business and issue compliance notices. Compliance notices are reviewable by the Queensland Civil and Administration Tribunal (for non-work matters) or the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (for work matters).

Need assistance in understanding positive duty?

For specific advice and or assistance, please contact our Employment or Schools team on 1300-862-529 to book a consultation with one of our team today.

This article was written by Fran Keyes.