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Workplace sexual harassment

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Sexual harassment is a known workplace hazard that can cause psychological and physical harm.

It can include unwelcome hugging, kissing or other types of inappropriate physical contact, staring or leering, intrusive questions about a person’s private life or physical appearance, repeated unwanted invitations to go out on dates, requests for sex, or explicit emails, calls, text messages or online interactions.

Tips

  • Be aware of heightened risk factors – power imbalances, isolated or remote work, poor workplace culture.
  • Assess and manage risks – eliminate them or minimise them wherever possible.
  • Foster a positive workplace culture – strong leadership, openness, trust and respect supported by policies, human resources practices and staff education and training.
  • Provide information, training and education – show workers, managers and supervisors how to prevent and respond to sexual harassment.

Potential harm

  • Psychological injury.
  • Feelings of isolation, social isolation, or family dislocation.
  • Loss of confidence and withdrawal.
  • Fatigue, headaches and migraine.

Identified hazards and controls

Sexual harassment

At the national level, sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). It is also prohibited by state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

While the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 does not expressly refer to the risk of workplace sexual harassment, it imposes a duty on employers to eliminate or manage hazards and risks to the health and safety of workers at work – including to prevent workplace sexual harassment.

Risks

  • Depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Illness such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, immune deficiency, and gastrointestinal disorders (for example, as a result of stress).
  • Self-harm or suicide.

Remedies

  • Identify hazards and consult with workers when gathering information.
  • Assess risks based on the likelihood and consequence of sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Control the risks through a practical and proactive approach, considering matters such as the physical work environment, safe work systems and procedures, addressing unwanted or offensive behaviour early, and incident reporting.
Page last reviewed: 07 May 2021

Comcare (Office Safety tool)
GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 | www.comcare.gov.au

Date printed 26 Jun 2022

https://www.comcare.gov.au/office-safety-tool/workplace-safety/workplace-sexual-harassment