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Understanding Your Rights: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace


According to research undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission, 33% of workers have experienced sexual harassment in the last 5 years, with women experiencing higher rates of sexual harassment than men. Of all age groups surveyed, young workers between 18-29 years had the highest prevalence compared to other age groups.

The Australian Human Rights commission also found that 45% of people who made a formal complaint about sexual harassment said nothing changed at their workplace as a result of their complaint.

These alarming statistics demonstrate that there is still a stigma when it comes to reporting sexual harassment incidents in the workplace that needs to be addressed.

Have you been sexually harassed in the workplace?

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) describes sexual harassment as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It is said that if a reasonable person would anticipate this behaviour could offend, humiliate or intimidate, it may be considered sexual harassment.

The following behaviours may constitute sexual harassment:

  • sexually suggestive remarks
  • so-called office banter/humour
  • personal questions about your private life
  • inappropriate physical conduct;
  • or inappropriate text messages

What to do if you’re being sexually harassed in the workplace?

You should keep a record about workplace sexual harassment if it is safe to do so. Keep these records on your personal devices, such as notes on your phone or sending emails to yourself from your personal account, as this will have a date and time stamp.

Try and muster up the courage to talk to a work friend or colleague to report the incident. Whilst doing this may be difficult, sometimes it helps to talk to a family member, or your GP first.

After all, it’s in an employer’s interests to take action in response. Under section 106 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) employers can be liable for sexual harassment, if the employer did not take reasonable steps to ensure the offending employee does not commit further harassment.

Should I seek legal advice if I’ve been sexually harassed at work?

If you believe you or a friend/family member have been sexually assaulted or harassed in the workplace then you should seek legal advice. Shine Lawyers Employment Law specialists can help you to understand your rights and legal options, and will treat your case confidentially. Contact us today for an obligation-free consultation.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: June 1, 2020.

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