If you have been sexually harassed at work, Maurice Blackburn can help you claim compensation for lost wages, hurt, distress, pain and suffering. Unlike workplace bullying and harassment, workplace sexual harassment does not need to be repeated, it can be a one-off incident. Our employment lawyers are experienced in supporting, advising and representing employees with workplace sexual harassment claims. We can also seek apologies and undertakings to train employees.

Maurice Blackburn represented a senior executive employee who had been bullied, sexually harassed and discriminated against in the workplace. This terrible treatment had further caused her to develop serious depression.

We successfully negotiated nearly two years’ salary in compensation, along with re-deployment to another branch of the company.

Richardson v Oracle Corporation

Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 82

In a landmark decision, the Full Bench of the Federal Court of Australia ordered an employer to pay $100,000 for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life to an employee who was sexually harassed at work. The decision reflects a significant increase in the amount of compensation historically awarded to victims of workplace sexual harassment. It also signals a turning point by recognising that today’s community standards and values demand higher compensation for victims of workplace sexual harassment.

Read more in our info sheet

Poniatowska v ESA

Employment Services Australia Pty Ltd v Poniatowska [2010] FCAFC 92

The Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia affirmed in Poniatowska the Federal Court’s earlier decision to award an employee $466,000 as compensation for workplace sexual harassment and sex discrimination. 

The case involved Ms Poniatowska and two of her former co-workers, whom she alleged had sent her sexually explicit emails, text messages from Co-worker One and phone calls and pictures from Co-worker Two 

The company had no formal policy or processes in relation to workplace sexual harassment and sex discrimination.  Although Ms Poniatowska reported Co-worker One’s emails and text messages to her Team Leader, there was no action taken by the company.  She later complained to a colleague about Co-worker Two’s picture and phone calls where the Team Leader was again informed and an investigation was conducted. 

In the investigation, Co-worker Two denied sending Ms Poniatowska the picture intentionally and claimed that it was sent inadvertently.  The Managing Director did not investigate the matter further. The company also made no attempt to keep the complaint confidential and Ms Poniatowska’s complaint became known amongst her co-workers. 

Following the complaints, the employer issued Ms Poniatowska a series of warning letters alleging poor performance.  She was not provided with reasonable opportunity to respond and was terminated on the basis of poor performance.

As a result, Ms Poniatowska developed anxiety and depression and was unable to work.  She made a claim against her employer, alleging that her termination was caused by her complaint of sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

The trial judge at first instance found that Ms Poniatowska was indeed terminated because she had complained about sexual harassment and “because she was a female who would not tolerate sexual harassment”. She was awarded $466,000.00 and the employer was also ordered to pay 90% of Ms Poniatowska’s legal costs.  

Nunan v Aaction Traffic Services

Nunan v Aaction Traffic Services Pty Ltd [2013] QCAT 565

In this case, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) ordered that Ms Nunan be paid $102,217.00 as compensation for workplace sexual harassment by one former co-worker over the course of several months. 

Ms Nunan and the co-worker worked together as air traffic controllers.  In the course of their working relationship, Ms Nunan would be subjected to behaviour of a sexual nature, including personal comments, questions, noises and gestures made by her co-worker.  It was alleged that these comments were made on a daily basis and throughout their shifts together, eventually causing Ms Nunan to suffer an emotional breakdown. 

QCAT determined that Ms Nunan had been sexual harassed by her co-worker, and found the employer had failed to provide adequate training for its employees in relation to the workplace policies on sexual harassment and sex discrimination. 

QCAT ordered that Ms Nunan receive: $40,000 for the injury she had suffered as a result of the unlawful behaviour, $51,895 for past financial loss, $3,892 for interest and $6,430 for future financial loss; a total of $102,217 in compensation.

FAQs - your questions answered

Sexual harassment is when someone engages in unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature towards another person, in circumstances where a reasonable person would expect that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Workplace sexual harassment can be verbal or in writing.

Behaviour can be sexual harassment regardless of whether it is done to you or done in front of you. 

Examples of conduct that can constitute workplace sexual harassment include:

  • propositioning someone for sex or sexual favours
  • sexual text messages or emails
  • using social media to send sexual messages
  • making an unwelcome sexual advance
  • unwelcome comments or questions about a person's sex life
  • unwelcome comments about a person's attire or physical appearance
  • suggestive behaviour such as leering or ogling
  • unnecessary physical contact such as brushing up against someone, touching or fondling
  • jokes, anecdotes, or comments of a sexual nature
  • displaying sexually offensive visual material such as photos, pinups, calendars, screensavers, emails, magazines or pornography
  • sexual propositions or continued requests for dates, and
  • conduct that would also constitute a criminal offence such as rape or sexual assault.

In addition to seeking legal advice, you can also do a number of simple things which may assist. They include:

  1. Keep a diary. Take notes of all the unwanted conduct of a sexual nature and harassment that happens to you, when it happens and who the perpetrator is.
  2. Be informed. Make sure you have a copy of your contract of employment, enterprise agreement and workplace policies and procedures that deal with occupational health and safety and harassment.
  3. If you are a union member, contact your union. Many unions are experienced in dealing with sexual harassment. If the sexual harassment is affecting a number of employees there are advantages to addressing it collectively.
  4. Address the situation early. Employees who are subject to workplace sexual harassment often put the issue to one side and wait before it gets really bad before addressing it. By this time the employee may have already suffered a work related stress injury or continuing in employment might not be a realistic option.
  5. Make a complaint. Employees who make a complaint or inquiry in relation to their employment are protected from adverse action under the Fair Work Act 2009. It is better if the complaint is in writing because this will be easier to use as evidence should the need arise. When writing a complaint be concise and stick to the key points.
  6. Take care of your health. Your mental and physical health is very important. If harassment is affecting you, make sure you see your doctor about it.
  7. Seek advice. Working out which legal or practical decisions to make can be difficult with workplace sexual harassment cases.  We can provide support and advice on a range of legal and personal matters.

Behaviours involving unwanted physical contact or damage to property may also constitute criminal offences. If you experience any such behaviour, you should consider reporting the matter to the police.