Sexual Harassment – Your Legal Rights and Obligations

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What are your rights and obligations are under the law?

Sexual harassment is against the law.  This blog discusses sexual harassment in the workplace and what your rights and responsibilities as an employee are.

Sexual harassment can be committed by your employer, a colleague, contractor or other person who is in a working relationship with the person who has been sexually harassed.

What is sexual harassment?

Legislation such as the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (a Queensland Act) and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (a Commonwealth Act) set out what sexual harassment is.

Sexual harassment is defined as conduct that:

  • is of a sexual nature;
  • is unwelcome or unsolicited; and
  • the person engaging in the conduct did so with the intention of offending, humiliating or intimidating the person or a reasonable person would anticipate in the circumstances that the person being harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Your employer’s obligations

As an employee, you have a right to a workplace that is free of discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification.  Your employer is actually responsible and has a duty of care to ensure your health and wellbeing at work.

Steps taken to achieve this by your employer may be the implementation and enforcement of policies on discrimination and harassment, providing training and setting out a clear complaint process, so employees know what to do if they have an issue.

If an employee is sexually harassed in the workplace, your employer can be found vicariously liable.  This means they can be found accountable for the actions of the person who engaged in the sexually harassing behaviour.

However, it is not only your employer who is responsible.  You also have responsibilities as an employee.

Employee responsibilities 

As an employee, you have a responsibility to not engage in discriminatory or sexually harassing conduct and to comply with your employer’s workplace policies that cover this type of conduct.  In addition, you ought not encourage or request a person to engage in this type of conduct as this is also inappropriate behaviour and will have consequences.

If you engage in sexually harassing behaviour, then you may face disciplinary action by your employer which could include being dismissed from your employment.  Further, if a complaint is made to the Anti-Discrimination Commission or Human Rights Commission you could be found liable and face penalties.  This may mean that you may have to pay damages such as monetary compensation to the person you harassed (or encouraged to be harassed).

Sexual harassment is serious.  If you are being harassed at work or know someone who is and you are not sure of your options, please contact Anderson Gray today.  We are here to help you. Anderson Gray are lawyers for employees.