There has been a focus on sexual harassment in the media recently due to some high profile allegations in Hollywood. It’s important that we recognise the issue is a global one and that sexual harassment in the workplace is a major concern in Australia.

A 2012 survey conducted by the Human Rights Commission found that one in four women had been sexually harassed at work in the past 5 years. This figure is alarming and demonstrates just how prevalent sexual harassment is in our society.

What is Sexual Harassment?

The Australian Human Rights Commission defines Sexual harassment as “an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances.”

Some examples of sexually harassing behaviour

unwelcome touching, grabbing or making other physical contact;
sexually explicit and offensive pictures or posters;
unwanted invitations to go out on dates;
requests for sex;
intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body;
unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person;
insults or taunts based on sex;
sexually explicit physical contact; and
sexually explicit emails or SMS text messages;
committing a criminal offence, such as making an obscene phone call, indecently exposing themselves or committing sexual assault.

What to do if you, or someone you know, are being sexually harassed at work?

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) defines the circumstances and behaviour that make sexual harassment illegal. Everyone has the right to work in an environment that’s free from harassment.
Here are some things you can do:

Firstly check company policies and procedures and be aware of the process for reporting this offence.

If you are comfortable to do so, speak to the offender and explain their behaviour is unwanted. Alternatively speak with your Human Resources representative.

Keep detailed notes of the time and date when the offences occurred along with the names of any witnesses.

If the offender is sending written messages then take screenshots and keep these as evidence.

Talk to someone that you can trust at work, this could be the Human Resources Manager, a colleague, manager or a family member. Don’t deal with this situation on your own.

Make a formal complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission or the NSW Human Rights Commission. It’s free to make a complaint.

For employers

Sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful and the person who harasses is primarily responsible. However, employers can also be held responsible if the harassment is done by their staff or agents.

If employers are able to show they have taken reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment they may limit their liability. This may include the policies and procedures that create a harassment-free environment or procedures that will deal with allegations made by employees or customers.

If you need help with any of the above please don’t hesitate to contact us by clicking here or calling 9525 8688.