Sexual harassment is a workplace hazard that causes psychological and physical harm. It is also against the law.

Sexual harassment can be perpetrated and experienced by people at any level of a business. It not only affects the victim, but also family, friends, colleagues and by-standers.

Sexual harassment can happen:

  • at a worker’s usual workplace
  • where the worker is carrying out work at a different location (such as a client’s house)
  • during a work-related activity such as a work trip, training course, conference or work-related social activity.

Sexual harassment might come from co-workers, supervisors or managers, but it may also come from third-parties like your customers, clients or other businesses you work with, like suppliers.

Sexual harassment is not always obvious, repeated or continuous. Unlike bullying, which is characterised by repeated behaviour, sexual harassment can be a one-off incident.

Sexual harassment can be physical, electronic or verbal.

Physical can be unwelcome touching, stroking, hugging, kissing, staring or leering, sexual gestures, stalking, inappropriate contact, standing too close, requests or pressure for dates or sex of any kind, rape or attempted rape, sexual pictures or gifts.

Electronic can be sexually explicit comments, posts, texts, emails or on social media, electronic stalking, sharing or threatening to share images without your consent, sending pornographic material.

Verbal can be repeated requests to go out (or date), intrusive questions about your private life, making personal comments about your physical appearance, indecent phone calls, voice messages, suggestive comments, jokes or innuendo that you find offensive or requests for sex or sexual favours.

Acts such as indecent exposure, stalking, sexual assault and obscene or threatening communications (e.g. phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and posts on social media) should be referred to the police as well as managed under WHS laws. You may also need to report it to SafeWork SA as a notifiable incident.

Employers must take a risk management approach to eliminate or minimise the risks of sexual harassment from occurring in their workplace.

Workers also have a role to play in reducing or minimising the risk of sexual harassment in their workplace.

Related information

Guide to preventing workplace sexual harassment – Safe Work Australia

Preventing workplace sexual harassment – advice for small business – Safe Work Australia

Workplace sexual harassment – advice for workers – Safe Work Australia

Ending workplace sexual harassment – Australian Human Rights Commission