Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal or written.
Sexual harassment is covered in the workplace when it happens:
- at work
- at work-related events
- between people sharing the same workplace
- between colleagues outside of work.
Responding to harassment
All incidents of sexual harassment – no matter how large or small or who is involved – require employers or managers to respond quickly and appropriately. Just because someone does not object to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace at the time, it does not mean that they are consenting to the behaviour.
Sexual harassment is against the law. Some types of sexual harassment may also be offences under criminal law and should be reported to the police, including indecent exposure, stalking, sexual assault and obscene or threatening communications, such as phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and postings on social networking sites.
More information on sexual harassment and the law is available on our Sexual harassment page.
While the person who sexually harasses someone else is liable for their behaviour, employers can also be held vicariously liable for acts of sexual harassment by their employees or agents.
Sexual harassment can involve employees, managers, contractors, agents, clients, customers and others connected with or attending a workplace. It can happen at work, at work-related events or between colleagues outside the work environment.
A common workplace
A workplace covers any place that a person attends for the purpose of carrying out their work or trade. They do not need to be an employer or employee of the workplace.
For example, Miki is contracted by an employment agency to fill a short-term reception role with an IT company. During her two-week placement she is sexually harassed by one of the company’s staff. Although Miki is not an employee of the IT company she is still covered by the law.
Employees or members of industrial organisations must not sexually harass other employees or members of the organisation, or people seeking to become a member.
For example, Louise is a union member and workplace representative for her union. At a union meeting she is sexually harassed by another member. She is covered by the law.
Employees or members of a qualifying body, such as a professional association, must not sexually harass other employees or members, or people seeking action on an occupational qualification.
For example, Justine is a dental hygienist and a member of a professional association. On a professional development course run by the association she is sexually harassed by one of its employees. She is covered by the law.
A partner in a firm must not sexually harass another partner or anyone seeking to become a partner at that firm.
For example, Noel is up for partnership at a law firm when he is sexually harassed by one of its senior partners. He is covered by the law.
Volunteers and unpaid workers
Volunteers and unpaid workers have the same rights and responsibilities in relation to sexual harassment as paid staff. See Volunteers and equal opportunity.
Make a complaint to the Commission
If you think you have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.
To make a complaint:
- contact us by phone, in person or email. We also have a free interpreter service
- submit your complaint online or download our complaint form
- chat to us online
Find out more about making a complaint.
A single incident is enough to constitute sexual harassment – it doesn’t have to be repeated.