Making a complaint about workplace sexual harassment

There are different ways for a person to make a complaint about workplace sexual harassment.

In the workplace

If you think sexual harassment has happened (or is happening) at your workplace, you can talk to people like:

  • a supervisor or manager
  • a health and safety representative
  • the human resources department
  • a counsellor
  • a union
  • a lawyer.

We know that raising an issue like this in the workplace can be challenging. As a start, you can take our Difficult conversation in the workplace employee course to help you prepare. It’s free and only takes a short time to complete.

We also have a free guide with tips and tools to handle difficult conversations at work: An employee's guide to difficult conversations in the workplace .

Unions are organisations that represent employees and can look into suspected breaches of workplace laws. There are unions for many industries, including:

  • building and construction
  • education
  • health
  • hospitality
  • manufacturing
  • professional services
  • retail
  • transport.

We have more information on the work of unions at Role of unions.

With the Fair Work Commission

The Fair Work Commission (the Commission) is the national workplace relations tribunal. They can deal with disputes about sexual harassment in connection with work under the Fair Work Act.

If a person (or group of people) believes they have been sexually harassed in connection with work, they (or an industrial association such as a union) may be able to apply to the Commission to:

  • make a stop sexual harassment order to prevent future sexual harassment
  • deal with a sexual harassment dispute to remedy past harm, or
  • do both of these things.

The Commission can make a stop sexual harassment order if it is satisfied that a person has been sexually harassed and there is a risk they will continue to be sexually harassed in connection with their work.

The Commission may also be able to take other steps to deal with a sexual harassment dispute including through:

  • conciliation
  • mediation, or
  • by making a recommendation or expressing an opinion.

If the dispute can’t be resolved these ways, the Commission may also be able to deal with the dispute by arbitration if the parties agree.

If the Commission deals with the dispute by arbitration, they can make an order:

  • for compensation
  • for lost wages
  • requiring a person to do something that’s reasonable to remedy any loss or damage suffered.

The Commission has information and guidance about making applications to stop sexual harassment at work. This includes information about:

  • who can apply
  • how to apply
  • the Commission’s process for dealing with applications to stop sexual harassment at work.

To find out more, visit Fair Work Commission – Sexual harassment.

Workers who want to apply to stop sexual harassment might be eligible for free legal advice through the Commission’s Workplace Advice Service.

Another government body

A person can also make a formal workplace sexual harassment complaint to:

With the Australian Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) accepts complaints about discrimination and breaches of human rights including sexual harassment, sex-based harassment and other matters arising from the Sex Discrimination Act and other national anti-discrimination laws.

The Sex Discrimination Act imposes a duty on a person conducting a business or undertaking, such as an employer, to take reasonable measures to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination including sexual harassment. It also prohibits conduct that subjects another person to a workplace environment that is hostile on the ground of sex.

Alternatively, you can also contact your relevant state or territory anti-discrimination body.

With your workplace health and safety regulator

A person conducting a business or undertaking, such as an employer, has a duty to manage the health and safety risks of workplace sexual harassment.

Each state and territory has a workplace health and safety body that can provide advice and assistance about workplace sexual harassment. For contact information, go to list of work health and safety regulators.

More information and resources are available from Safe Work Australia – Workplace sexual harassment. This includes:

  • what sexual harassment can look like
  • how to prevent and respond to reports of sexual harassment in the workplace under work health and safety laws.

With us (the Fair Work Ombudsman)

We (the Fair Work Ombudsman) are the national workplace regulator. We can help with some issues around sexual harassment at work usually when an employee has already sought help, such as via the Commission or another government body. This includes:

  • investigating a workplace for non-compliance with laws prohibiting workplace sexual harassment
  • taking action when someone doesn’t comply with a Commission stop sexual harassment order (see above).

We also have the power to start court proceedings for alleged breaches of laws prohibiting sexual harassment.

If you believe you have been sexually harassed in connection with work, you should make an application to the Commission in the first instance. See the information above for how to do this.

See Fixing a workplace problem for information and resources to help resolve workplace problems. You can read our Compliance and Enforcement Policy for information about how we perform our compliance and enforcement role.

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 1800RESPECT.org.au.

Mental health support services

Lifeline

24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention

Ph: 13 11 14

Website: https://www.lifeline.org.au/

Beyondblue

Mental health support

Ph: 1300 224 636

Website: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Tools and resources

Related information