Dealing with workplace bullying, sexual harassment & discrimination as a young person

Everyone has the right to a workplace free from bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. Find out how to get help and support if you need it.

Rights and protections at work

Employees have many protections at work (also called general protections). One of your protected rights is being free from discrimination.

In addition to these general protections, employees also have the right to not be bullied or sexually harassed in the workplace.

We have information on what bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination is in the workplace and where you can go to get help.  

Sexual harassment

What is sexual harassment?

Under the Fair Work Act, a person’s behaviour is sexual harassment if:

  • it’s unwelcome sexual behaviour
  • a reasonable person might expect that the behaviour could make another person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Examples of sexual harassment 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.

A person could also be sexually harassed by being exposed to or witnessing this kind of behaviour, such as overhearing a conversation or seeing a sexually explicit poster in the workplace.

Example: Witnessing or being exposed to sexually inappropriate behaviour

Ava works in an IT consultancy with Bill and Jack.

Ava often overhears Bill and Jack making sexually inappropriate jokes to each other at work. Bill also has a sexually explicit screensaver on his work computer, which Ava often sees when she walks past his desk.

Ava feels uncomfortable and talks to her manager.

Bill and Jack say Ava is being too sensitive. They also say that what they talk about at work or have on their computers has nothing to do with her.

Bill and Jack’s behaviour could still be considered sexual harassment even if it doesn’t involve Ava directly.

Sexual harassment may be repeated actions or it can be a one-off incident. It can happen in person, online or over the phone.

How to get help with sexual harassment

If you feel unsafe now, phone 000.

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

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

You can choose to handle sexual harassment however you feel comfortable. These are some of the options available to you:

For more information, see Sexual harassment in the workplace.

Bullying

What is bullying?

Under the Fair Work Act, bullying happens at work when:

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

Examples of bullying include:

  • behaving aggressively towards others
  • teasing or playing practical jokes
  • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately
  • excluding someone from work-related events
  • unreasonable work demands.

What isn’t bullying?

Reasonable management action that's carried out in a reasonable way is not bullying.

An employer or manager can:

  • make decisions about poor performance
  • take disciplinary action
  • direct and control the way work is carried out.

Management action that isn't carried out in a reasonable way may be considered bullying.

Example: Unreasonable management action may be bullying

Caleb has started work for a coffee distributor. It is his first full-time job and he is a little nervous. Although he tries his best, he has made a few mistakes.

Caleb’s manager, John, has yelled at Caleb in front of other staff and told Caleb that he will not be allowed to attend the staff Christmas party if he doesn’t improve. John now insists that another employee has to check all of Caleb’s paperwork, and he makes jokes to staff about how he can’t let Caleb speak to clients unsupervised.

John hasn’t met with Caleb to discuss Caleb’s work and how it could improve.

John’s behaviour could be considered bullying because it goes beyond reasonable management action.

How to get help with bullying

You can choose to handle bullying however you feel comfortable. These are some of the options available to you:

For more information, see Bullying in the workplace.

Discrimination

What is discrimination?

Under the Fair Work Act, an employer can’t take adverse action against an employee or a prospective employee because of one or more of the following attributes of the person:

  • sex
  • race
  • religion
  • age
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • physical or mental disability
  • marital status
  • family or carer’s responsibilities
  • pregnancy
  • religion
  • political opinion
  • national extraction or social origin.

Adverse action includes doing, threatening or organising any of the following:

  • firing an employee
  • injuring the employee in their employment (for example, not giving an employee their legal entitlements, such as pay or leave)
  • changing an employee's job to their disadvantage
  • treating an employee differently than others (for example, treating someone differently based on their sex or gender)
  • not hiring someone
  • offering a potential employee different and unfair terms and conditions for the job compared to other employees.

Example: Discrimination because of gender and age

Wendy is a student and works as a receptionist at a car dealership.

She applies for a more senior job at the dealership that would involve administrative duties and greeting customers. Wendy has previous experience in administrative duties and customer service.

Wendy’s manager tells her that she didn’t get the job because customers might not take her seriously as she is young and a woman.

Wendy is being discriminated against because of her gender and age, which is prohibited under the Fair Work Act.

How to get help with discrimination

If you’ve lost your job:

  • Contact the Fair Work Commission if you think you were sacked because of:
    • discrimination
    • a reason that is harsh, unjust or unreasonable
    • another protected right.

You have 21 days starting from the day after you were dismissed to lodge an application with the FWC. Check the information at the FWC website to find out if you can apply for:

If you’re still employed:

  • Speak to a supervisor or manager, a health and safety representative, the human resources department, a union or a lawyer.
  • Get advice from your relevant state or territory anti-discrimination body, which can consider and investigate breaches of state or territory anti-discrimination laws in workplaces.
  • Contact us so we can investigate allegations of unlawful workplace discrimination and may initiate litigation against a national system employer for contravening the FW Act.
  • Lodge an application with the FWC. If you have not been dismissed but allege that there has been a contravention of the discrimination protection provisions of the FW Act, you may make an application to the FWC to deal with the dispute.
  • Make a complaint through the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

For more information, see:

Mental health support services

It can be difficult dealing with bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. Talk to a trusted friend, family member or colleague, and get help from counselling services if you need it.

Lifeline

24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention

Phone: 13 11 14

Website: www.lifeline.org.au

Beyondblue

Mental health support

Phone: 1300 224 636

Website: www.beyondblue.org.au

More information for young workers and students