Know My Rights: Protection against sexual harassment

Support is always available
  • Call 000 if you, a child, or another person is in immediate danger.

  • 1800RESPECT: Call 1800 737 732 if you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence.

  • No to Violence Men’s Referral Service: Call 1300 766 491 for anonymous and confidential telephone counselling, information and referrals for men.

  • Kids Helpline: Call 1800 55 1800 for 24/7 counselling for Australian children and young people.

  • Q LifeCall 1800 184 527 for anonymous and free LGBTQIA+ peer support and referral.

Sexual harassment is a type of harassment that involves any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. Like all forms of bullying and harassment, sexual harassment is a known cause of physical and mental injury. It is a serious health and safety issue and can even result in criminal charges for perpetrators.

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, but women are much more likely to be targeted.

What you can do if you experience or witness sexual harassment at work

Put your safety first

The top priority is to make sure you, or the person you are supporting, feels safe. If you don’t feel safe, you should contact one of the support numbers listed or someone you trust in your family or community.

Contact your union

After looking after your immediate safety, your union is the first one to contact if the sexual harassment has happened at work or in a work-related setting.  

We know it can difficult talking about sexual harassment – your union is there to listen and support to you.  

You can approach your delegate, Health and Safety Representative, your union organiser or call your union directly. You can also ask your union for a translator if you want to communicate with your union in a language other than English.  

Any conversation you have with your union will: 

  • Put your needs first 
  • Be non-judgemental
  • Be confidential.

You union will provide you with information about the options available to you and can advise you on your next steps.

New options available to workers

Under new laws implemented on 6 March 2023, sexual harassment of workers is prohibited under the Fair Work Act.  

Workers are protected from sexual harassment by any person in their workplace. That can be a colleague – regardless of whether they’re senior or junior to you – or even third parties e.g. a customer or client. 

Your employer is legally obliged to put preventative measures in place to ensure your working environment is safe from sexual harassment.

Even if the perpetrator is, say, a customer or an external contract worker visiting your workplace, your employer still has that responsibility to protect you from harm. 

To fully protect workers, employers must have a thorough understanding of what can increase the risk of sexual harassment in a workplace. To achieve this understanding, employers must hear directly from workers and the Health and Safety Representatives. They simply can’t make well-informed decisions about your safety without asking you first.

To address a sexual harassment dispute under the Fair Work Act, an application needs to be made to the Fair Work Commission (FWC). Workers can make the applications, and their Union can also make the application on their behalf. Unions can also make an application for a group of workers who have all been affected.  It must be lodged within two years of the incident occurring, or the latest occurrence of a series of incidents.

For most workers, it will be far easier to approach your union and ask them to make the application. Your union has the legal knowledge and understanding to make your application as strong as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

You should still contact your union. They will provide accurate information and advice about what you can do next.

Your Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is the best person to talk to if you want to be anonymous. You can send them an email from a non-work email address that doesn’t identify you or you could discreetly leave an anonymous note at their workstation.

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching the HSR for your particular work group, you can talk to an HSR from another work group.

By default, most unions record any calls they get. But you can ask for the conversation not be recorded at the beginning of the call and your union will respect this and end the recording then and there.

Yes, absolutely. Although Australian data shows that women are far more likely to be impacted by sexual harassment than men, men can also experience it or know someone else at work who has. Your union will not judge you at all.

You may not want someone else to see that you have accessed a page on sexual harassment. To learn how to delete selected pages from your browser history, you can Google or use another search engine and search for “delete browser history” along with the name of your browser e.g., Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox.

You can also view websites in “private” or “incognito” mode which doesn’t keep a record of your browsing history.

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Do you want some further information about Know My Rights: Protection against sexual harassment?

The Australian Unions Support Centre provides free and confidential assistance and information for all workplace issues. We’re here to provide support, regardless of your job or industry.

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