Wake up people sexual harassment in the workplace exists!

Have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable in your workplace by another staff member? Or have you experienced unwanted advances or unwelcome conduct from another staff member? If so you may have been sexually harassed at work.

A National Phone Survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission in October of 2008 showed that 22% of women and 5% of men have been sexually harassed in the workplace.

The Australian Human Rights Commission defines Sexual harassment as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. If a reasonable person would anticipate this behaviour might make you feel offended, humiliated or intimidated, it may be sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Some examples of behaviour that may be sexual harassment include:

Sexually suggestive comments or jokes;
Intrusive questions about your private life or physical appearance;
Inappropriate staring or leering;
Unwelcome hugging, kissing or cornering or other types of inappropriate physical contact; and
Sexually explicit text messages, images, phone calls or emails.

What to do if you feel as though you have been sexually harassed in the workplace?

Your first step must always to be to report it to a supervisor or someone holding a senior position in your office or company. This may be extremely difficult to do, however evidence shows that reporting is an effective way to make the sexual harassment stop. Statistics developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey in 2012 make evident that 45% of workplace sexual harassment stops after a complaint or report is made.

What to do if reporting is not an option?

Sometimes, reporting an incident of sexual harassment might not always be a viable or successful option. For example, in the matter of Mathews v Winslow Constructors (Vic) Pty Ltd [2015] VSC 728, a woman working in a civil engineering company in Melbourne was being subjected to shocking sexual harassment. She was being touched inappropriately, verbally abused and received multiple sexual insults, from male co-workers in her company.

Her concerns were laughed at and complaints ignored by her supervisors. This forced the lady to seek legal advice and the matter was taken to court. Subsequently she sued her employer for damages arising out of the sexual harassment.

The woman was diagnosed with several psychiatric conditions, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the sexual harassment. It was noted in the medical evidence that she was unlikely to ever work again.

She was consequently awarded $1.3 million in damages by the Victorian Supreme Court for economic loss, treatment costs and pain and suffering.

This case indicates that employers cannot simply ignore complaints made by their employees in regards to incidents of sexual harassment and expect to get away with it. If someone has made a complaint, an employer must take appropriate action.

If you have been unfortunate enough to have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, the team at Koffels is experienced with this type of work, and is more than happy to help you obtain rightful compensation.

William Yeo


Koffels Solicitors & Barristers