1 Core obligations

Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), sexual harassment is:

  • Any unwelcome sexual advance
  • Unwelcome request for sexual favours
  • Other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed

in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated. 1

This template is provided for you to customise for your organisation.

Risk description

1 Core obligations

Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), sexual harassment is:

  • Any unwelcome sexual advance
  • Unwelcome request for sexual favours
  • Other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed

in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated. 1

The Sex Discrimination Act makes sexual harassment unlawful in certain areas of public life, including employment. 2

2 What to focus on

Sexual harassment is a workplace health and safety risk that causes offence, humiliation or intimidation, and can have long-term psychological, physical and financial consequences for affected individuals.3 Appropriate systems and processes for managing work health and safety risks should be used to respond to and prevent the risk of sexual harassment.

3 Example wording

This wording could be used in Board communications when describing sexual harassment as a work health and safety risk.

We have a duty to address sexual harassment in our workplace. Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated. Sexual harassment disproportionately impacts women and those with specific personal or employment characteristics.

The definition of ‘workplace’ under work health and safety legislation is a place where work is carried out for a business or undertaking. It includes any place where a worker goes, or is likely to be, while at work. Sexual harassment can therefore happen:

  • At a worker’s usual workplace
  • Where a worker is working remotely, including if the person’s workplace is their home
  • In a place where the worker is undertaking work at a different location (such as a client’s home)
  • Where the worker is engaging in a work-related activity such as conferences, training, work trips, work-related corporate events of a work-related social activity like a Christmas party
  • By phone, email or online (including through social media platforms) 4

Sexual harassment may be perpetrated by various people including an employer, supervisor, co-worker, client, patient or customer.

 
This document is intended to provide general guidance only. The contents should not be relied upon as legal advice.  Specific legal advice should be sought in particular matters.

1 Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) s 28A

2 Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) pt II div 3

3 See Safe Work Australia’s National Guidance Material, “Preventing Workplace Sexual Harassment” at page 4.

4 See Safe Work Australia’s National Guidance Material, “Preventing Workplace Sexual Harassment” at page 4.

We need to set the tone and lead from the top. With this in mind, here is an example of some things we should never say or accept from others:

  • A bullying and harassment policy should be enough to deal with sexual harassment.
  • We have low report rates of sexual harassment, so it’s not a problem at this organisation.
  • We have a reporting hotline which is well publicised, but we don’t get many calls about sexual harassment, so it’s not an issue here.
  • I have been in this industry for decades and I have never seen it, so it mustn’t be happening.
  • That’s the remit of our HR team. If there was ever a big issue, they would escalate it to us.
  • Our staff engagement scores are terrific and there is no indication of there being a sexual harassment problem here. That means we’re doing enough.


Most cultural issues aren’t hiding in plain sight. Often it’s the things that aren’t being talked about that we need to be concerned about. Research tells us that sexual harassment is common and that it’s significantly under reported. We need to be proactive to prevent sexual harassment, and not wait for a complaint before we act.

We need to ensure our people feel safe to come forward and report instances of sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace. The only way they’ll do this is if they can see that leadership takes this issue seriously.

Can I suggest we create a board paper for the next meeting to outline how we plan to do this?

We take the health and wellbeing of our people very seriously. We work hard to improve our safety outcomes and reduce injuries, and overall we do a good job preventing physical harm to our people.

As we have seen in many other organisations, sexual harassment is more prevalent than a lot of people think. This represents a real risk to keeping people safe in the workplace, and to our people’s wellbeing and productivity.

It can also cause significant damage to our reputation, our brand as an employer of choice, lost business, and to our corporate standing.

We need to make it crystal clear to everyone in the organisation that we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Our objective is to prevent it. We need to ensure all our systems, processes and practices enforce this commitment.

We need to treat sexual harassment risks as we would any other physical or psychological risk in the workplace. We already have existing systems and processes in place for identifying and mitigating workplace health and safety risks and hazards, and for defining our desired culture.

We need to embed these into our sexual harassment response frameworks, reporting practices and organisational culture so sexual harassment is eradicated.

We can’t afford to wait on this; we need to act urgently.

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other conduct of a sexual nature. It’s not only a human rights issue, which is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act, but also a workplace health and safety (WHS) risk which can cause significant psychological, physical, reputational and financial harm.

Existing systems and processes for managing WHS risks and hazards should be used to eliminate the risks and control the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace.

Board members and senior executives have a duty to address this. Everyone deserves to work in a safe, respectful and inclusive environment. Respect is everyone’s business.

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other conduct of a sexual nature. It’s not only a human rights issue, which is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act, but also a workplace health and safety (WHS) risk which can cause significant psychological, physical, reputational and financial harm.

Existing systems and processes for managing WHS risks and hazards should be used to eliminate the risks and control the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace.

Board members and senior executives have a duty to address this. Everyone deserves to work in a safe, respectful and inclusive environment. Respect is everyone’s business.