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A coalition of community legal centres (CLCs) have slammed the “endemic nature” of sexual harassment in workplaces across Australia, suggesting the law is “broken” and fails to protect employees who fall prey to harassment at work.

“From bakeries to banking firms, from supermarkets to law firms, sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is rife and remains under-reported,” said Kingsford Legal Centre Law Reform Solicitor Maria Nawaz. “The law is broken and fails to protect workers from sexual harassment.”

Nawaz was one of three authors of a new report, called #MeToo: Legal Responses to Sexual Harassment at Work, penned by a coalition of CLCs including Kingsford Legal Centre, Redfern Legal Centre, Women’s Legal Service NSW and the National Association of Community Legal Centres. The report was released in April and makes 45 recommendations to build a culture preventing sexual harassment at work.

The report noted that reports of sexual harassment to community legal centres were “skyrocketing”. Sharmilla Bargon, a co-author of the report and employment lawyer at Redfern Legal Centre, noted that community legal centres received the brunt of employment law work related to sexual harassment, because disadvantaged or marginalised clients were often seen as easy targets.

“We regularly advise clients who have been sexually harassed, and are then fired or bullied when they report it,” said Bargon. “We also know that women with disability, LGBTQ+ people, Indigenous women, young people and women of colour are more likely to experience sexual harassment.

“We need harsher penalties for employers who refuse to institute transparent and effective complaints procedures, and who victimise complainants rather than disciplining perpetrators.”