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Are you across new sex discrimination legislation?

Many business owners remain unsure of significant amendments made to the Sex Discrimination Act, which include broader implications around breastfeeding at work and that harassment can be committed by new technologies like mobiles and social media.

According to Harmers Workplace Lawyers Managing Partner Shana Schreier-Joffe, the amendments now recognise breastfeeding as an entirely separate category of discrimination, rather than an instance of sex discrimination.

The definition of sexual harassment has also been broadened, to apply to not only the recipients of the provision of goods and services but also to those that provide the goods and services.

According to Schreier-Joffe, many business owners were unaware of their legal obligations prior to the amendments, and the latest changes mean they can’t afford to be ignorant of increased employee and consumer protections.

“The amendments surrounding breastfeeding discrimination mean employers must ensure they provide adequate facilities for breastfeeding women, such as basic hygiene and privacy. Failure to do so would be considered direct discrimination.”

Further changes that increase protection for employees on the grounds of family responsibilities may also have significant consequences for employers, with workplace requests related to family responsibilities applying to all stages of the employment relationship and equally to men and women,

“Workplaces are now quite dynamic, making it important to for employers to have the right policies in place to allow employees to fulfil their family responsibilities, which could include flexible working hours or requesting a period of leave,” Schreier-Joffe said.

Advice for employers include:

  • Review what facilities are in place, or could be made available, for breastfeeding women returning to work and whether these facilities meet reasonable standards of hygiene and privacy. In this context, it is important to remember that breastfeeding includes the act of expressing milk.
  • Ensure there are no inflexible policies or practices preventing a breastfeeding employee from taking appropriate breaks during work.
  • Ensure staff, including those on parental leave, are aware of what policies and practices are in place and what support is available within the workplace in respect to family responsibilities and breastfeeding.
  • Update sexual harassment policies to reflect the relevant changes to the Sex Discrimination Act (including in respect to the provision of goods, services and facilities), and communicate these changes to staff.
  • Review policies and practices relating to the accommodation of family responsibilities in the workplace, and how these policies and practices apply to both male and female workers.

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Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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