eLaw Journal: Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, Vol 17, No 2 (2010)

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: The Loophole Exposing Western Australia's Parliament

Jacinta Wright

Abstract


Sexual harassment remains a serious problem in Australian workplaces.  Recent statistics gathered by the Australian Human Rights Commission indicate that workplace sexual harassment is rarely a one-off incident and can have a significant impact on an employee’s productivity and emotional wellbeing. Employees can also feel as though they are being victimized and deserted by their friends and colleagues.

 

Despite awareness of the negative impacts caused by sexual harassment, Australia’s Federal, State and Territory legislation concerning sexual harassment remains largely inadequate. At best, sexual harassment is prohibited between certain workplace participants and in certain employment situations. At worst, in some employment situations it is not regulated at all.  For example, an alleged incident of sexual harassment involving a Western Australian Member of Parliament helped expose a significant loophole in Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984.  This loophole omits parliamentary staff from the operation and protection of workplace sexual harassment legislation.   This is a serious legislative oversight.

 

The introduction of the Equal Opportunity (Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill 2010 (WA) has again brought this issue into the public spotlight.  This paper argues that while the Equal Opportunity (Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill 2010 goes some way toward addressing the issue of sexual harassment in Parliament, it fails to take into account proposals which have been put forward which appear to substantially advance and strengthen the definition of sexual harassment and enhance its coverage.  These proposals include: extending the prohibition to other persons with whom a worker ‘comes into contact during their employment’; ensuring the State of Western Australia can be made vicariously liable for sexual harassment in government employment; and removing from Members of Parliament, the ability to invoke parliamentary privilege as a defence to sexual harassment. This paper discusses various other general recommendations for reform which would be more effective in preventing sexual harassment and concludes by arguing that sexual harassment should be outlawed in its entirety in employment relationships


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