Workplace sexual harassment
Unlike workplace bullying, workplace sexual harassment does not need to be repeated, it can be a one-off incident. If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace we can help.
Sexual harassment and victimisation is against the law. If you need legal advice or assistance with a sexual harassment claim, contact our workplace sexual harassment lawyers today to talk about how we can help you.
Harassment in the workplace & victimisation
Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours or conduct of a sexual nature where a reasonable person would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.
Victimisation is also unlawful. We often speak to clients who are too afraid to come forward with their complaint because they fear they will be treated differently at work. However, the law takes a strong stance against victimisation. Victimisation occurs when a person is subjected or threatened with a detriment, because they make a complaint about sexual harassment or a complaint about something that would constitute sexual harassment. An employer can also be held liable for victimisation of an employee by another employee.
Maurice Blackburn believes there is a real opportunity to improve the laws in Australia, in order to provide protection and safety in the workplace, and equal access to justice for all. We are calling for reforms that will both reduce the risk of sexual harassment and provide greater assistance to victims.
Our record of success
Maurice Blackburn is Australia's leading employment law practice for employees and executives. Our specialist employment lawyers will fight for the compensation you deserve, while protecting your current and future earnings and professional reputation. Our specialist team have an established record in employment law and have successfully acted for many clients in cases of sexual harassment, including instance in which we have:
- negotiated a settlement for an executive who alleged sexual harassment at work against one of the world’s largest consultancy firms.
- resolved numerous claims of sexual harassment of employees in the legal profession on favourable terms;
- confidentially resolved the cases of two female air traffic controllers in Federal Court proceedings who alleged prolonged sex discrimination and severe workplace bullying at Airservices Australia;
- successfully settled a sexual harassment claim made by a real estate agent against another real estate agent;
- successfully settled a claim and negotiated significant compensation for an employee of a transport company who had been subject to unlawful sexual harassment and victimisation;
- resolved a complaint and negotiated a six-figure settlement for a police officer who alleged sexual harassment;
While many of our clients’ cases are resolved discreetly via negotiation, we also have an excellent record of successful dispute resolution if litigation is necessary. Our highly experienced employment lawyers are recognised as the only national First Tier law firm for employees and trade unions in Doyle’s ‘Guide to the Australian Legal Profession’.
We protect your rights
Jane worked for a large male dominated company. She contacted us after she’d been subjected to repeated verbal and physical sexual harassment over a number of years. The culture of the organisation meant that the systemic sexual harassment went all the way to senior leadership.
Jane’s complaints had been ignored, she was extremely unwell and she was fearful of her financial security. We wrote to her employer demanding an investigation and action against the offending employees. We subsequently issued a complaint in the Human Rights Commission.
We negotiated six months wages as compensation for the treatment Jane had been subjected to. This enabled Jane to have financial security whilst her health recovered and to move forward with her life.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is sexual harassment?
A person is sexually harassed if he or she is subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct by someone else, in ways that a reasonable person would anticipate could possibly offend, humiliate or intimidate that person. Sexual harassment at work is against the law and employers can be held liable for the harassment of an employee by an employer, manager or supervisor, or another employee—unless the employer can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment from occurring.
What should I do if I am being sexually harassed?
In addition to seeking legal advice, there are a number of simple things that you can also do which may assist:
- Keep a diary. Take notes of the sexual harassment that you are subjected to, including when it happens and who the perpetrator is.
- 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.
- If you are a union member, contact your union. Many unions are experienced in dealing with sexual harassment. If the harassment is affecting a number of employees there are advantages to addressing it collectively.
- Address the situation early. Employees who are subject to 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; if this is the case, they may not be able to continue working.
- 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. Ideally, you should get advice prior to making a complaint. 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. You should also check any policies that your employer has relating to complaints, grievances, harassment or equal opportunity. These policies may detail the form and process for making a complaint. Complaints may also be lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission or State-based Commissions. Time limits may apply on lodging complaints. Ideally, you should act early and get advice prior to making a complaint.
- Take care of your health. Your mental and physical health is very important. If workplace harassment is affecting you, make sure you see your doctor about it.
- Seek advice. Working out which legal or practical decisions to make can be difficult with workplace discrimination cases. We can provide support and advice on a range of legal and personal matters.
I want to take action but I don’t want to go to court.
Our experienced employment lawyers have resolved many sexual harassment claims on behalf of clients. Most resolve either through our lawyers dealing directly with the employer, or their legal representatives, or through a confidential conciliation. In many cases we can avoid the need to issue proceedings in court. Where court proceedings are necessary and you chose to go to court, our employment lawyers have extensive experience to guide and fight for you through the court process.
How do courts view sexual harassment?
In recent years, the courts have taken a tougher stance on proven sexual harassment. The courts have recognised the significant impact that sexual harassment can have on an individual’s enjoyment of life.
In Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd and Tucker  FCAFC 82 (15 July 2014) the Federal Court awarded the Applicant $100,000 in recognition of the loss of enjoyment of life that the employee had suffered as a result of sexual harassment.
In Collins v Smith  VCAT 1992 at , the Applicant was awarded $180,000.00 in general damages for non-economic loss after she had been sexually harassed at work.
In Green v State of Queensland  QCAT 008 the tribunal awarded $156,051 to a claimant who suffered an adjustment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder following a ‘prank’ of a sexual nature at work.
Josh BornsteinNational Head of Employment Law, Melbourne
"When the forces of darkness are on your back, you want Josh at your side," Julian Burnside QC
Experts in Employment law
Our team has an outstanding record of achieving terrific outcomes for employees in both the private and public sector. We assist our clients with a combination of strategy, tenacity and compassion.
Call us on 1800 810 812 to book an initial consultation. Your first consultation costs $690 (incl GST).
At your one hour consult our lawyers will provide advice on your situation, the best action to take, and next steps. This consult is charged at a fixed fee.
Most of our cases are resolved out of court, and discretion is assured.