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Raising personal grievance in cases of sexual harassment

The process of addressing grievances has undergone a significant change as of 13 June 2023. The Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Act has introduced a notable exception to the previous 90-day deadline for raising personal grievances related to sexual harassment. This amendment comes in recognition of the emotional difficulty faced by victims of sexual harassment and aims to offer them more time to seek support and decide how to proceed with their claims. In this article we will look at the key details of the recent amendment and its implications for both employers and employees.

Extended Time for Raising Personal Grievance:
As mentioned above, under the recent amendment, employees now have a more substantial timeframe of 12 months to raise a personal grievance specifically related to incidents of sexual harassment in their workplace. This extension applies to sexual harassment events that occurred on or after 13 June 2023, irrespective of whether the employee has left the employment during the 12-month period. It is a significant departure from the previous norm of the 90-day deadline for personal grievances.

Reasoning Behind the Amendment:
The amendment was introduced to address the unique challenges victims of sexual harassment face in reporting such incidents. Sexual harassment cases often involve complex factors that may hinder immediate disclosure. Furthermore, the emotional toll inflicted by sexual harassment can discourage victims from coming forward promptly. The extended 12-month deadline provides victims with a more supportive environment to evaluate their options and consider the best course of action before raising a claim.

Applicability and Employer Obligations:
The amendment applies solely to personal grievances concerning sexual harassment incidents. For all other personal grievances, the 90-day timeframe remains unchanged. Employers are obligated by law to include the modified time of 12 months in new employment agreements. However, existing employment agreements need not be updated, as employees and employers are automatically covered by the modified time, regardless of the timeframe mentioned in their agreements.
Though not required, employers should discuss updating the agreements during the next review with their employees, adhering to good faith obligations. Any changes made must be mutually agreed upon and properly documented.

Seeking Support and Reporting:
Reporting sexual harassment can be an arduous task for victims, and the amendment acknowledges this reality. If sexual harassment involves assault, threats of harm, or violence, it should be reported to the Police for appropriate legal action.

Employers and employees seeking support services can turn to various organizations depending on their needs. Employers may contact business associations, industry bodies, Chambers of Commerce, or professional service providers like lawyers. Employees, on the other hand, have the option to seek help from community service providers such as Citizens Advice Bureau, Community Law, unions, or private advisors like lawyers or employment advocates such as Coromandel Workers Council. The availability of a wide range of service providers ensures victims of sexual harassment can find appropriate support tailored to their individual circumstances.

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