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Changes to Sexual Harassment Laws

Changes to The Sexual Discrimination Act

The Sexual Discrimination Act has expanded the definition of sexual harassment and broadened situations where sexual harassment can occur. These changes came into operation in June 2011. The following is a brief summary of the most important changes, but employers should seek legal advice as to how the changes will affect their business.

The meaning of “Sexual harassment” now includes:

  1. The possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated
  2. A wider list of situations and circumstances to be taken into account such as the sex, age, marital status, sexual preference, religious belief, race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, of the person harassed and the relationship between the persons; and
  3. Consideration of any disability of the person harassed.

There have also been changes related to educational institutions where the definitions have been widened.
It is now an offence for:

  1. A staff member to sexually harass a student or prospective student;
  2. A student over 16 to sexually harass other students or members of staff;
  3. A student over 16 or a teacher to sexually harass a student or teacher from another institution.

It is no longer the requirement that the victim must be over 16 for sexual harassment to be unlawful. The amendments now cover any student regardless of their age.

The definition of workplace has been widened to include harassment that occurs to workers in a different workplace.

Also, both genders are also now treated more equally under the amendments. The amendments have now implemented a new separate ground for discrimination for breast-feeding women.

Given the expanded definitions and categories in relation to sexual harassment employers and educational institutions should update their policies and procedures to incorporate the new amendments and consider obtaining legal advice as to how the changes can affect their business.

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