“Workplace sexual harassment is prevalent and pervasive: it occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level, in Australian workplaces. Australians, across the country, are suffering the financial, social, emotional, physical and psychological harm associated with sexual harassment. This is particularly so for women. This behaviour also represents a very real financial impost to the economy through lost productivity, staff turnover and other associated impacts.”


Workplace sexual harassment is a known cause of psychological and physical harm.

Under Australia’s WHS laws, businesses and organisations must manage the health and safety risks of workplace sexual harassment. This includes sexual harassment between workers and from other people at the workplace including customers and clients.


Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.


Sexual harassment can include:

  • unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering, or kissing
  • inappropriate staring or leering
  • suggestive comments or jokes
  • using suggestive or sexualised nicknames for co-workers
  • sexually explicit pictures, posters, or gifts
  • circulating sexually explicit material
  • persistent unwanted invitations to go out on dates
  • requests or pressure for sex
  • intrusive questions or comments about a person’s private life or body
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
  • insults or taunts based on sex
  • sexual gestures or indecent exposure
  • following, watching, or loitering nearby another person
  • sexually explicit or indecent physical contact
  • sexually explicit or indecent emails, phone calls, text messages or online interactions
  • repeated or inappropriate advances online
  • threatening to share intimate images or film without consent
  • actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.

Some forms of sexual harassment are also criminal offences and should be reported to the police.

Women are significantly more likely to experience sexual harassment than men. Other factors which increase the likelihood of a worker experiencing sexual harassment include:

  • workers under 30 years of age
  • workers who identify as LGBTIQA+
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander workers
  • workers with a disability
  • workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • migrant workers or workers holding temporary visas, and
  • people in insecure working arrangements, e.g. casual, labour hire, or part-time work.

The Australian Human Rights Commission report of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (available at https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/publications/respectwork-sexual-harassment-national-inquiry-report-2020) notes:

“Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue: it is a societal issue, which every Australian, and every Australian workplace, can contribute to addressing. Workplace sexual harassment is not inevitable. It is not acceptable. It is preventable… Ultimately, a safe and harassment-free workplace is also a productive workplace.”


Conducting a workplace investigation into allegations of sexual harassment can be difficult and confronting. Many of our investigators are former police officers, well experienced in conducting complex investigations and interviewing victims and witnesses. We respect the rights of complainants to speak with our investigators with a support person, at a time and place of their choosing.


Sexual Assault in the workplace

Sexual assault is a serious crime that can impact anybody. Although women are primarily the victims of sexual assault, men and transgender people can also be victims.  Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim


All Australian Police jurisdictions understand that reporting sexual assault can be distressing and traumatic. However, not all people want the incident to be formally investigated. In most States and Territories, a victim of an alleged sexual assault can make an “Information Report” to police for recording purposes only – police will not investigate the incident, but may use the information for intelligence purposes. It is also up to the victim to decide if they would like their case to progress through the court later, as a criminal investigation will not commence without the consent of the victim.


WISE Workplace investigators can investigate allegations of a sexual nature in the workplace, however, in matters of sexual assault, we encourage victims and witnesses to report these allegations to the police. While WISE Workplace investigators are extremely experienced, police forces have specialised teams dedicated to investigating sexual assault commitment against adults and can organise extra support including medical care and counseling for victims, using a range of government and non-government agencies.


For more information about how WISE Workplace can assist you with investigations, training, or a review of your current sexual harassment policies, procedures, or practices., please call us on 1300 580 685 or email [email protected]