Sexual harassment – the basics

Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It’s unlawful.

Most people know what sexual assault is. People usually struggle with whether a particular incident is sexual harassment. Here are some examples which can be sexual harassment:

  • staring or leering;
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching;
  • suggestive comments or jokes;
  • insults or taunts of a sexual nature (more on that over here);
  • intrusive questions or statements about another’s private life;
  • displaying porn, nude posters, lads magazines or calendars;
  • sending sexually explicit emails, text messages or SnapChats; and
  • requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates.

Employers’ liability goes beyond the obvious workplace and includes outside working hours. The conduct needs to be connected to work. That includes office parties and staffies. It can include two employees talking to each other, emailing, text messages, phone calls and social media.

It’s an OHS and sex discrimination issue. It can be a bullying issue if one or a few employees are being targeted. You know, like happens in some kitchens, which gets passed off as ‘just jokes’.

Employers are liable where the employee sexually harasses another (that’s called vicarious liability). A recent appeal increased the payout from $18,000 to $130,000.

Employers: you have a positive duty to prevent sexual harassment. The first step to fulfilling that duty is to have a sexual harassment policy which every employee has read and understood.

Don’t have a sexual harassment policy? You’re at risk. Get in touch.

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