Sexual harassment in the workplace

Workers, future workers and people conducting a business or undertaking are protected from sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment

Everyone has the right to a workplace that is safe and free from sexual harassment.

Workers, future workers and people conducting a business or undertaking (such as self-employed people or sole traders) are protected from sexual harassment connected to work, including in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is:

  • an unwelcome sexual advance or request for sexual favours to the person who is harassed
  • other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person who is harassed.

To be sexual harassment, it has to be reasonable to expect that there is a possibility that the person being harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by the behaviour. This means that whether behaviour is sexual harassment depends on how a reasonable person would interpret the behaviour in that situation. Behaviour that is sexual harassment in one situation may not be in a different situation.

When working out whether certain conduct is sexual harassment, the intention of the alleged harasser doesn’t matter.

Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be repeated or continuous. It can be a one-off incident.

Sexual harassment in the course of employment can be considered serious misconduct and can be a valid reason for dismissal. Find out more information about:

A person could also experience sexual harassment by being exposed to or witnessing this kind of behaviour in their work environment or culture. For example, overhearing a conversation or seeing a sexually explicit poster in the workplace.

Examples of sexual harassment

Examples of sexual harassment can include:

  • inappropriate physical contact, such as unwelcome touching
  • staring or leering
  • a suggestive comment or joke
  • a sexually explicit picture or poster
  • an unwanted invitation to go out on dates
  • a request for sex
  • intrusive questioning about a person's private life or body
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
  • an insult or a taunt of a sexual nature
  • a sexually explicit email or text message.

Other behaviour

Behaviour that isn’t sexual harassment might still be considered bullying or discrimination in the workplace. It could also breach anti-discrimination or work health and safety laws.

Bullying in the workplace

Bullying happens at work when:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or a group of worker
  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Some forms of sexual harassment can also be considered bullying if the behaviour is repeated or continuous.

Find out more at Bullying in the workplace.

Discrimination in the workplace

Sexual harassment is different to discrimination. Both are prohibited under a range of anti-discrimination laws.

The Fair Work Act prohibits an employer from taking adverse action (such as firing or demoting someone) against an employee or a future employee for discriminatory reasons. This can include because of their:

  • sex
  • gender identity
  • intersex status
  • race
  • religion
  • need to breastfeed.

You can find a full list of protected attributes at Protections from discrimination at work.

Sexual harassment doesn't have to relate to the characteristics of the person being harassed.

Adverse action doesn’t have to have happened for sexual harassment to occur.

Protection from sexual harassment in the workplace

Under the Fair Work Act, a person or company may be liable for sexual harassment committed by an employee or agent in connection with work, including if they were involved in the employer’s contravention. This applies unless the person or company can prove that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment.

There are also protections from sexual harassment under other Australian laws.

Protections under the Fair Work Act

These laws protect certain workers in Australia including future workers. They also protect people conducting a business or undertaking.

A worker includes:

  • an employee
  • a contractor or subcontractor
  • a small business owner who works in the business
  • an outworker
  • an apprentice or trainee
  • an intern
  • a work experience student
  • a volunteer.

A person conducting a business or undertaking includes a self-employed person or sole trader.

Making a workplace sexual harassment complaint

There are a few ways for a person to make a complaint about workplace sexual harassment. These include:

  • in the workplace
  • by applying to the Fair Work Commission
  • by lodging a complaint with another government body, like the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Learn more about making a complaint at Making a complaint about workplace sexual harassment.

Some forms of sexual harassment could constitute criminal offences and should be reported to the police.

Managing sexual harassment

Workplaces can help prevent sexual harassment by:

  • creating a safe physical and online working environment
  • providing information, instruction, training and support about the importance of preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace
  • addressing unwanted or offensive behaviour early
  • encouraging reporting of sexual harassment and having effective complaints procedures.

More information and resources are available about how to prevent and respond to reports of sexual harassment in the workplace from:

Sexual harassment in the course of employment is considered serious misconduct and can be a valid reason for dismissal.

Find out more information about:

Positive duty under the Sex Discrimination Act

Under the Sex Discrimination Act, organisations have a positive duty to eliminate, as far as possible, the following unlawful behaviour from occurring:

  • discrimination on the ground of sex in a work context
  • sexual harassment in connection with work
  • sex-based harassment in connection with work
  • conduct creating a workplace environment that is hostile on the ground of sex
  • related acts of victimisation.

The Australian Human Rights Commission have a range of practical information and resources to help organisations meet their positive duty obligations. Visit their website at The Positive Duty under the Sex Discrimination Act.

Support services

If you feel unsafe now, phone 000.

If there is no immediate danger but you need police assistance, phone 131 444.

You can contact the police about any assault that may involve criminal conduct.

Contacting the police

Some forms of sexual harassment are criminal conduct.

If you have experienced sexual assault and feel you would like to make a complaint or report to the police, click here for the relevant state and territory police contacts.

Sexual assault support services

1800RESPECT is the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling, information and support service. If you or someone you know is experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, domestic, family or sexual violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit

Mental health support services


24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention.

Ph: 13 11 14



Mental health support.

Ph: 1300 224 636


Tools and resources

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