Sexual harassment in the workplace

What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment encompasses unwelcome actions or behaviours of a sexual nature that cause an individual to feel humiliated, intimidated, or offended, given the circumstances. This behaviour can take various forms, including unwarranted physical contact, intrusive questions about personal life, unwanted advances or invitations, explicit communication, or creating an environment that feels sexually threatening.


These actions need not be specifically directed at a person; sexual harassment can encompass an uncomfortable or hostile sexual environment within the workplace. This might involve sexually explicit materials, suggestive jokes, or an overall culture that feels sexually inappropriate.

Instances of workplace sexual harassment can occur during work hours, work-related events, training, conferences, or social activities associated with work. It can stem from employees, managers, customers, or clients.


Sexual harassment can include:

  • Unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing
  • Inappropriate staring or leering
  • Sexual gestures, indecent exposure or inappropriate display of the body
  • Sexually suggestive comments or jokes
  • Sexually explicit pictures, posters or gifts
  • Repeated or inappropriate invitations to go out on dates
  • Intrusive questions about a worker’s private life or physical appearance
  • Inappropriate physical contact
  • Being followed, watched, or someone loitering nearby
  • Requests or pressure for sex or other sexual acts
  • Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
  • Indecent phone calls, including leaving sexually explicit messages on voicemail or an answering machine
  • Sexually explicit comments made in emails, SMS messages or on social media
  • Repeated or inappropriate advances on email, social networking websites or Internet chat rooms
  • Sharing or threatening to share intimate images or film without consent
  • Any other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that occurred online or via some form of technology.
Legal framework and employer responsibilities

Legal framework and employer responsibilities

Sexual harassment is prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and is also considered a workplace hazard under Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. As such, employers (the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking – PCBU) have a duty to ensure the health and safety of employees, contractors, and visitors, including safeguarding against sexual harassment.

Employers must address the risk of sexual harassment akin to any other workplace hazard, aiming to eliminate or reduce it reasonably. They should establish measures, policies, and procedures to prevent, address, and manage instances of sexual harassment, which includes offering information, training, and a clear process for reporting incidents confidentially.

Employees’ responsibilities

As employees, individuals are responsible for maintaining their safety and not compromising the safety of others. This involves refraining from sexually harassing colleagues or others within the workplace. Following employer instructions regarding health and safety, which includes adhering to policies aimed at preventing sexual harassment, is crucial.

Employees also have the right to refuse or cease work under serious and immediate risks. If unsafe work conditions arise, employees have the right to report these concerns to employers or Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) without fear of discrimination or reprisal.

Employees’ responsibilities

Seeking further support

Employees can refer to the Australian Human Rights Commission for resources delineating their rights under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. This includes guidance on understanding and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. Additional resources are available through the Commission’s website and other support services:

Useful links