1 Core obligations

Employers must take steps to identify and mitigate risks relating to sexual harassment in the workplace

In particular, employers should assess their workplaces for characteristics that may increase the risk of sexual harassment occurring or which may create barriers for identification and reporting.

2 What to focus on

A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard and the likelihood of exposure. A risk assessment for sexual harassment can help you to determine:

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

Risk register

1 Core obligations

Employers must take steps to identify and mitigate risks relating to sexual harassment in the workplace.

In particular, employers should assess their workplaces for characteristics that may increase the risk of sexual harassment occurring or which may create barriers for identification and reporting.

2 What to focus on

A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard and the likelihood of exposure. A risk assessment for sexual harassment can help you to determine:

  • How severe a risk is
  • Whether any existing control measures are effective
  • What action you should take to control the risk
  • How urgently the action needs to be taken
3 Example wording

Below are examples of risks and mitigation measures that could be included in a risk register, prepared using the risks identified in:

Note: Reporting dashboard, Charter wording and Risk register examples listed below can be downloaded from the ‘Policy, processes and reporting’ section of the Respect Toolkit: Policy and Reporting

Factors that can indicate, increase the likelihood and/or impact of sexual harassment:

Mitigation measures

1.

Low worker diversity e.g. the workforce is dominated by one gender, age group, race or culture.

Concentration of men in management, leadership or board. Men being promoted more often than women.

Improve and promote diversity at all levels.

Regular segmented reporting on diversity. Refer to our Reporting dashboard examples.

2.

Sex-segregated workplaces (where work is typically or historically performed by men or women) and workplaces with rigid workplace norms based on gender stereotypes e.g. a person of particular gender routinely organise catering, prepare rooms for meetings and clean up after events.

Break down gender stereotypes at work.


Unconscious bias training.


Senior people calling out and taking actions to change these norms.

3.

Power imbalances e.g. workplaces where one gender holds most of the management and decision-making positions.

 

Address gender balance in hiring and promotions.

Regular reporting on diversity including recent hiring and promotions. Refer to our Reporting dashboard examples.

4.

Workplaces that value profit over protecting workers.

 

Organisations adopt a consistent response to sexual harassment, which is unaffected by decisions relating to profit.

Sexual harassment policy, training and reporting. Refer to our Reporting dashboard, Charter wording and Risk register examples.

5.

Workplaces organised according to a hierarchical structure.

 

Ensure leaders role model appropriately and transgressions are dealt with visibly.
Sexual harassment policy, training and reporting.

 

Refer to our Reporting dashboard, Charter wording and Risk register examples.

6.

A workplace culture that supports or tolerates sexual harassment, including where lower level, harmful forms of harassment are accepted. For example, small acts of disrespect and inequality are ignored and reports of sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviours are not taken seriously. This conduct can escalate to other forms of harassment, aggression and violence.

 

Encourage workers to address these issues directly with offenders and/or encourage greater reporting of such instances of unacceptable behaviour.

Encourage and empower bystanders to speak up at the time and to report such instances.

Sexual harassment policy, training and reporting. Refer to our Reporting dashboard, Charter wording and Risk register examples.

7.

Use of alcohol in a work context, and attendance at conferences and social events as part of work duties, including overnight travel.

 

Have in place and implement a responsible service of alcohol policy.

 

Consider holding events that are not focused on alcohol consumption.

8.

Workers who work in isolated places with limited supervision, in restrictive spaces like cars, at residential premises or employer-provided accommodation, or where limited help and support is available.

Increase the number of supervisors in remote locations. Improve safety systems in remote locations such as remote surveillance, alarms and lighting.

9.

Working from home which may provide an opportunity for covert sexual harassment to occur online or through phone communication.

 

Encourage employees to report inappropriate behaviour.

Regular reporting e.g. on complaints, employee assistance calls by category. Refer to our Reporting dashboard examples.

10.

Worker interactions with clients, customers or members of the public (either face-to-face or online) which may give rise to third-party sexual harassment.

 

Encourage reporting of inappropriate behaviour. Educate third-party providers of the organisation’s approach to sexual harassment. Refuse to deal with third parties that breach the organisation’s policies.

Regular reporting e.g. on complaints, employee assistance calls by category. Refer to our Reporting dashboard examples.

11.

Poor understanding among workplace leaders of the nature, drivers and impacts of sexual harassment.

 

Improve the workforce’s understanding of the nature, drivers and impacts of sexual harassment.

 

Sexual harassment policy and training.

12.

High-pressure workplaces, with an attitude that workers need to let off steam to deal with the pressures of work and certain behaviours don’t need to be taken seriously.

Emphasise in training that the organisation does not endorse this attitude and has zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

 

13.

Short-term contracts with a reliance on reputation and word-of-mouth for securing the next job, for example individuals in the fashion and entertainment industries and junior doctors completing their training.

 

Encourage employees including contractors to report inappropriate behaviour and reinforce the message that victimisation and retribution are not tolerated.

 

Sexual harassment policy, training and reporting. Refer to our Reporting dashboard, Charter wording and Risk register examples.

14.

Some areas in or around the workplace are isolated, poorly lit or intimidating to enter.

Audit such areas and improve safety in those areas.

15.

Sexualised or sexist materials are on display (e.g. posters, calendars, screensavers).

Train workers that this is unacceptable and discipline workers for such conduct.

16.

Lack of privacy or security for workers using bathrooms or change rooms.

Make bathrooms and change rooms private and secure.

 

17.

In-home work (such as providing childcare, nursing, cleaning services, aged or disability care) with direct client contact and little or no oversight.

 

Audit workers performing such work to identify the risks; consult with workers about how to address the risks.

 

Sexual harassment policy and training.

18.

Male-dominated customer or client base.

 

Seek to improve the diversity of clients the organisation services. Set out expectations of working together with both parties.

19.

Small businesses where confidentiality and confidence to raise issues may be difficult to achieve.

Engage a third-party provider that can receive complaints and provide regular reports.

20.

A cohort of young workers (including under 18 years), interns, apprentices, graduates or other junior workers.

 

Audit the risks associated with such workers and change their working environment in response to those risks. For example, limit the extent to which such workers are permitted to work long hours.

Sexual harassment policy, training and reporting. Refer to our Reporting dashboard, Charter wording and Risk register examples.

21.

A cohort of women from migrant and non-English speaking backgrounds, people on employer-sponsored visas, First Nations women, women with disabilities and LGBTIQA+.

Audit the risks specific to these workers and implement control measures in response to those risks. Specifically reference these groups in training materials.

22.

A cohort of casuals, contractors, short-term workers, temporary workers and freelancers.

 

Encourage employees, including these groups, to report inappropriate behaviour. Reinforce the message that victimisation and retribution are not tolerated.

Ensure that these groups are captured in training and reporting. Refer to our Reporting dashboard examples.

23.

High staff turnover, particularly of female or junior workers.

 

Ensure exit interviews are comprehensive and capture the reasons for the worker leaving the business and include in reporting.

Refer to our Reporting dashboard examples

24.

Gender differences in shifts or teams that may be caused by a group or individual being more reluctant to work with particular workers or take on particular tasks.

Understand the reasons for the reluctance and implement measures to improve diversity in teams.

 

25.

Different uniform requirements for men and women, or prescriptive dress codes or expectations for how women should look at work (such as high heels, skirts and make-up).

Review uniform requirements through a gender and cultural lens, and implement changes to break down the gender and cultural stereotypes in relation to how workers are required to dress.

26.

Travel and overnight stays.

 

Consider the necessity of travel and overnight stays. Where necessary, ensure secure accommodation is provided.

27.

Placements in regional or remote locations where workers may be socially isolated or confined with co-workers, such as fly-in-fly-out workers in camps.

Ensure that secure accommodation is provided, and supervisors regularly check in with such workers.

28.

Frequent formal or informal client functions or after-work events.

 

Acknowledge the consumption of alcohol is not part of some employees’ culture and consider the necessity and focus of such functions.

 

Implement a responsible service of alcohol policy and ensure non-alcoholic beverages are available.

 

Ensure the organisation provides transport home for workers.

29.

Shift work, after-hours and longer hours.

 

Identify the risks associated with workers performing such shifts and implement control measures in response to those risks.

30.

Gendered and binary networking events or mentoring opportunities, such as work lunches at men’s clubs, invitations for men to play golf with the boss.

Cease offering such events, or invite women, and people of all backgrounds and cultures.

 

31.

Differences in the unspoken expectations of men and women workers.

Train staff and raise awareness in the business of unconscious bias and discrimination.

32.

Male workers dominating meetings or decisions.

Train staff and raise awareness of unconscious bias.

 

 
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.

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.