• Employee
  • VIC
  • NSW
  • QLD
  • ACT
  • TAS
  • NT
  • SA
  • WA
  • Federal

What is this resource?

This resource explains your options if you have been sexually harassed at work. 

It covers:

  • What is sexual harassment?

  • Sexual harassment in the workplace

  • Understanding your options

  • Support services

  • How to get legal help

  • Things to remember

  • The laws

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment includes any form of unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours, or unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. 

Sexual harassment in the workplace can take many different forms, including:

  • unwelcome or inappropriate physical contact by a colleague or supervisor (e.g. touching, patting, pinching, kissing, hugging or brushing against a person)

  • requests for sexual favours or sex in exchange for workplace benefits

  • negative treatment in the workplace if another’s sexual advances are rejected, such as threat of termination or bullying

  • sexual activities engaged in under threat of losing one’s employment

  • sharing of sexual material around the workplace, including posters and screensavers

  • sexual phone calls, texts or emails

  • a requirement that employees wear sexually-suggestive clothing

  • banter of a sexual nature, lewd jokes or sharing of stories about sexual experience

  • comments of a sexual nature about someone’s appearance

  • repeatedly asking for a date or sexual favours despite being rebuffed

  • sexually suggestive, offensive or demeaning remarks, gestures or facial expressions (e.g. leering or staring at a person’s body up and down)

  • questions about a person’s sexual activities

The intent of the person engaging in sexual harassment does not matter. Likewise, the sex, gender and/or gender identity of the people involved in the harassment is irrelevant. Anyone can be impacted by sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment may occur in a single incident or a series of incidents. It can be physical, verbal or written. Also, sexual harassment may be subtle, rather than explicit or obvious. Sexual harassment may involve an abuse of power and/or trust and may be directed at a person who may not be able to stop the behaviour easily (for example, where the sexual harassment occurs between people of different levels of seniority).

Sexual harassment in the workplace

It is against the law for an employer or worker to sexually harass:

  • a worker (including employees, contractors, volunteers and interns) in the workplace; or

  • a person who is seeking employment.

Sexual harassment may occur in the workplace or outside the workplace if it occurs in connection with work (e.g. during a work-related function or travel). 

If you have been sexually harassed at work (or a place connected with work) you may be able to make a complaint against the person who sexually harassed you, your employer, or both.

Understanding your options

If you are currently experiencing sexual harassment in your workplace, you have a range of options available to you to seek assistance. Some of your options are set out below. Below are some of the options you could consider, these do not need to be followed in the order set out:

Check your workplace policy

Your workplace might have a policy that sets out steps you can take, for example a Sexual Harassment Policy, an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy or a Grievance/Complaints Policy. You might have received a copy of these policies during induction, you might be able to access these on your employer’s intranet or they might be available through your human resources team. 

If not, or in addition to your workplace policy, you may consider taking one or more of more of the steps below. 

Talk to the other person

Depending on your relationship with the person who harassed you and whether you feel comfortable doing so, having a conversation with them might result in the behaviour ending if they weren’t aware of the impact of their behaviour. For example, you could tell the other person that their behaviour is unwanted, or makes you feel uncomfortable, and ask them to stop. 

Seek assistance

If you do not feel comfortable talking directly with the other person, or if that method has not worked previously, you could consider talking to a human resources officer or a manager at your workplace. If there is no one more senior than you, you might consider talking to a board member.  

This should result in the senior person talking to you further about your options. You should tell the senior person whether you wish to keep your concerns confidential. 

The senior person might be able to talk to the person who engaged in the sexual harassment, or they might recommend that you escalate the issue in a formal process.  

Remember that if the sexual harassment is of a serious nature, the person you talk to about this may have an obligation to take further action to protect you from any risks to your health and safety in the workplace (for example, conducting an investigation into the issue). 

Make a formal complaint at work

If you do not feel comfortable talking directly with the other person, or that does not work, you could make a formal complaint about the behaviour within your workplace. 

If your workplace policies do not provide information on how to do this, it is best to put your complaint in writing and only provide it to a human resources officer or manager. You should provide as much detail as possible about the behaviour, including what happened, who was involved, when it occurred and who else might have seen or heard it. If you have documents or copies of documents that contain sexually harassing material such as emails, pictures or screen shots, these should also be included. 

If your company has a whistle-blower hotline and you would like your complaint to remain confidential, you could make a whistle-blower complaint. This should contain the same details as a formal complaint to human resources or a manager. It is important to note that if you make a complaint on a confidential basis it may be difficult for your employer to take action to investigate the complaint and prevent further sexual harassment. 

A formal complaint or whistle-blower complaint made to your workplace should result in an investigation of the matter. This investigation should be conducted by an impartial party. This will likely involve someone asking the person that has sexually harassed you to tell their side of events. They might also need to ask you more questions and gather further information from any witnesses.  

Once the investigation is complete, your employer should then decide what to do. This might include terminating the employment of the person who sexually harassed you, moving them to another location or giving them a written/verbal warning about their behaviour. 

Lodge a claim with an external body

You can make a sexual harassment claim under anti-discrimination legislation to one of the organisations listed below:  

Visit their website or contact them directly to work out how to lodge a claim. 

You can also apply to the Fair Work Commission for a stop sexual harassment order. 

Criminal action

Some types of sexual harassment may also be considered criminal conduct. Examples include stalking, sexual assault, indecent exposure and obscene or threatening communications. Where this is the case you may want to:

  • Talk to the police: You may wish to report your sexual assault or harassment to the police. The police will ask you to provide a statement about your experience. You can have a person with you for support during the police interview. The police may charge the perpetrator.

  • Obtain an intervention order: A protection or intervention order may be put in place to protect you from sexual harassment and other forms of violence. If you are being harassed by a family member or partner (current or former), you may be able to obtain a family violence intervention order (if in Victoria) or an apprehended domestic violence order (if in NSW).

    If you are being harassed by someone who is not a family member or partner, you may be able to obtain a personal safety intervention order (in Victoria) or an apprehended personal violence order (in NSW). You can apply for these orders at your local court or ask Victoria Police or the NSW Police Force to apply on your behalf.

    Provisional or interim orders may be made if you are in need of urgent protection.

    For more information on applying for a protection order, see:


Your employer also has an obligation under work health and safety laws to provide you with a safe workplace. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work (or a place connected with work), you may be able to make a complaint to the relevant work health and safety regulator (e.g. SafeWork NSW, WorkSafe Victoria or Safe Work Australia).


If you have a simple legal question that’s not urgent, you can ask a lawyer using our tool Justice Connect Answers.

Please note that Justice Connect Answers can only help with quick legal questions, and does not qualify as an application for comprehensive legal help. If you need ongoing legal help with your problem, the best thing to do is submit an online application.

Ask a lawyer a quick question

Things to remember

Take notes

If you experience sexual harassment, you should also make notes of the relevant conduct including the following details:

  • What occurred?

  • When did the conduct occur?

  • Where did the conduct occur?

  • Who was involved?

  • Who may have witnessed or overhead it?

If the sexual harassment is all or partly in writing, you should keep either the originals or copies of this material. This is especially important where it may later be deleted, such as in an instant messaging app. 

You should not be punished for making a claim

Victimisation is unlawful under the discrimination laws.  Victimisation is when a person subjects, or threatens to subject, another person to any detriment because they:

  • have made, or intend to make, a complaint under discrimination laws including about sexual harassment


  • have made an allegation that a person has done something that is unlawful


  • have given, or intend to give, evidence or information in connection with a complaint under discrimination laws including about sexual harassment.

You can take action for past sexual harassment

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the past, you can still take action. 

If you still work at the workplace where the harassment occurred, you can tell your manager or a human resources officer and they can talk to you about your options. If you no longer work at that workplace, you could still report the issue to that workplace to let them know what happened. 

In addition, you could consider lodging a claim with an external body. Most commissions impose a time limit of twelve months in relation to discrimination claims. The Australian Human Rights Commission imposes a time limit of twenty-four months. However, each of these external bodies have powers to consider a complaint outside of these time limits at their discretion. You can therefore still make a complaint after this timeframe has passed; however, you should be aware that it may need to go through a further process for the relevant commission to determine whether it can accept your claim. 

You should follow procedure to avoid defamation

If you have been sexually harassed, it is important that you make the complaint to the appropriate person or authority.  

If you publish information about your sexual harassment claim more widely, the person you are making the allegations against could make a claim that you have defamed them. Defamation occurs where someone’s character is harmed due to the publication of material that is likely to lessen their standing or reputation. This includes both written and spoken commentary. Posting on social media posts such as Tweets or Facebook updates can constitute defamation. 

The law provides protection for people making a legitimate complaint in good faith to an appropriate authority such as the police, a human resources manager or someone else whose role it is to receive allegations of sexual harassment.  

While going through the appropriate channels may feel frustrating, it is important that you do so. The risk of a potential defamation claim should not be ignored. You should not share it more broadly unless a lawyer tells you it is okay to do so. 

If someone has accused you of defaming them after raising after raising an allegation of sexual harassment, please contact our service for further assistance here. 

The laws

Sexual harassment is unlawful in accordance with the following laws: 

  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth); 

  • Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth); 

  • Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (VIC); 

  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW);  

  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (QLD);  

  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (TAS);  

  • Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA); 

  • Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 (NT);  

  • Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT); and  

  • Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA). 

More resources

If you have been sexually harassed at work, our resources can help you understand your options.

  This resource was last updated on 1 September 2023. This is legal information only and does not constitute legal advice. You should always contact a lawyer for advice specific to your situation. Please view our disclaimer for more information.