Recognising and dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace
Here at Owen Hodge Lawyers, we have some of the most experienced sexual harassment lawyers Sydney has to offer. These niche employment lawyers know that companies in Australia have a duty of care to employees under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (the Act) to provide a work environment that is free from sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment laws do not just apply to management or employees in your workplace; it also extends to clients, suppliers, independent contractors and anyone who has a relationship with your company. If you’re experiencing workplace sexual harassment, please don’t hesitate to contact Owen Hodge’s lawyers.
What is sexual harassment?
‘Sexual harassment’ is defined in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) as “any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated where that reaction is reasonable in the circumstance”.
What is an example of harassment?
Sexual harassment can take various forms. According to Australia’s sexual harassment laws, it can involve some or all of the following:
- Suggestive jokes or comments
- Sexually explicit emails or text messages
- Intrusive questions about an employee’s private life or appearance
- Unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sex
- Insults or taunts of a sexual nature
- Sexually explicit emails or SMS messages
- Accessing sexually explicit internet sites, magazines or other material
- Behaviour which would also be an offence under the criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault
- Stalking or obscene communications
- Any other conduct of a sexual nature.
Sexual harassment laws not only apply to the hours spent during official work hours, they also apply in any work-related context such as:
- Work Christmas functions
- Corporate functions
- Business or field trips; and
- Includes interactions with clients, suppliers and customers
What can I do if I’m being harassed at work?
1. Keep a record
Our sexual harassment solicitors will tell you that it is important to diarise the sexual harassment that is occurring. Write down when the unwelcome conduct happened and provide as much detail as possible including: the date it occurred, and the names and addresses of people who witnessed the harassment. If possible, keep copies of any relevant documents. Diaries can be used as evidence in a tribunal or court.
2. Seek advice
It is also a good idea to seek information and advice from external government bodies or associations in your respective state or territory. Such as:
- New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board
- Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC)
- WorkCover NSW
- NSW Office of Industrial Relations
However, they cannot provide legal advice. Employees should speak to sexual harassment lawyers if they have specific questions about their employer’s obligations under the Act.
3. Make a formal or informal complaint
How do I complain about harassment?
Approach your direct supervisor, someone you trust (such as a work safety representative), or someone from human resources (HR) to discuss the sexual harassment, or make a formal complaint and start the resolution process. If possible, you should try and resolve matters at an organisational level before seeking legal action.
4. Speak to the person harassing you
After seeking advice, if you are able to, speak to the person who is harassing you and explain their behaviour is unwanted and it is making you feel uncomfortable. This may be done with or without mediation depending on whether you have made a formal complaint. Sometimes the person does not understand how their behaviour is making you feel and addressing that behaviour directly may put a stop to it.
Dismissed after making a sexual harassment complaint?
If you are dismissed as a result of making a complaint, or feel that you had to resign because of the complaint, you may be entitled to lodge a claim for unfair dismissal under the Fair Work Act. You may wish to seek legal advice from an experienced unfair dismissal lawyer at this point to help you through the process.
Owen Hodge’s sexual harassment lawyers are here to help
If a matter cannot be dealt with through organisational processes, then contacting external parties should be considered. If the sexual harassment continues and your employer cannot or does not help, you can report the behaviour to the Anti-Discrimination Board and where there is violence or sexual assault in the workplace, the police should be consulted.
Our bullying and harassment lawyers are able to advise you about your rights in regards to sexual harassment laws (NSW), workplace rights and, how to pursue legal action. Our commitment is always to our client, so please contact our sexual harassment lawyers on 1800 770 780 to schedule an initial consultation.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, it is possible to claim compensation for economic loss, distress, pain and suffering. However, you will need to address the following when making a claim:
- The evidence available to support your claim
- The impact the sexual harassment has had on your life
- The circumstances that caused the harm
- Time limits (this will depend on your individual circumstances and how you wish to claim compensation)
It can be quite challenging to prove harassment in the workplace as proof can be extremely circumstantial. However if harassment takes the form of text messages and/or emails that can be very important proof.
Harassment can take place in 3 forms, which include:
- Verbal/written, for example:
- Making inappropriate jokes, remarks, teasing, or asking sexually related questions
- Sending someone sexual emails, notes or letters
- Verbal attacks
- Physical, for example:
- Inappropriately touching or grabbing someone
- Deliberately brushing or rubbing your body against someone
- Sexual assault
- Visual, for example:
- Sending sexual images or videos
- Exposing of private parts
- Unwelcome gestures to another person
- Staring at someone else’s body offensively