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Appendix A: Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission - Effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of Practice for Employers (2008)

cover - Effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of Practice for Employers

Effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of
Practice for Employers

Appendix A: Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission


The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission),
with the assistance of the Complaint Handling Section (CHS), is responsible for
the management of complaints lodged under federal human rights and
anti-discrimination law.

A flow chart of the process for handling complaints of unlawful
discrimination, including complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act alleging
sexual harassment, is provided below. The Commission aims to handle complaints
in a way that is accessible, flexible, timely and effective.

More information about the complaint process can be found at the Complaint
Handling Section of the Commission’s website at

Chart of The 
complaint handling process. Summary in the text that follows.

* When complaints under the Age, Racial, Sex and Disability Discrimination
Acts are terminated, the complainant may apply to have the allegations heard and
determined by the Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court

Key features of the Commission’s complaint process are summarised

Complaint information

  • Many complaints to the Commission start with a telephone call or an e-mail
    to the Commission’s Complaint Information Service on 1300 656 419 or (02)
    9284 9888. An initial telephone conversation with a Complaint Information
    Officer will usually help clarify whether or not the person’s concerns may
    be covered by federal law. If the enquirer’s concern appears to be
    covered, the Complaint Information Officer will provide them with information
    about how they can lodge a complaint and send a complaint form.
  • Officers can also refer callers to community advocacy and legal centres
    where they may be able to obtain assistance to pursue a complaint. Where the
    issue appears to be outside the Commission’s jurisdiction, enquirers are
    provided with contact details for other organisations that may be able to

Complaint lodgement and assessment

  • Complaints can be lodged by individuals, or by individuals or organisations,
    on behalf of others; including on behalf of a class of people. Making a
    complaint is free and people do not need to be legally represented.
  • Complaints can be lodged in any written form including by letter, fax or
    e-mail. On-line and hard copy complaint forms are available. CHS Officers will
    assist a person put their complaint in writing if necessary and complaints can
    be made in any language.
  • All incoming correspondence is assessed by the Director of Complaint
    Handling generally within two days of receipt. This ensures quality assessment
    of issues and enables matters to be allocated for priority handling and
    fast-tracked to resolution, where this is appropriate. Complaints assessed for
    priority action, such as those where the person is in ongoing employment and
    alleging that they are being subjected to ongoing sexual harassment or
    discrimination, are generally allocated to an officer within a few days of

Complaint inquiry

  • A Commission officer will contact the complainant and the person or
    organisation who is being complained about (the respondent) to discuss the
    complaint and how it will be handled.
  • In many cases, the next step in the complaint process involves the
    President, or her Delegate, issuing a customised letter of inquiry to the
    respondent, which requests a reply to the complaint.
  • The complaint process is, however, flexible and when respondents are advised
    of complaints either verbally or in writing, they are also provided with the
    opportunity to proceed to conciliation prior to providing any formal reply.
  • On receipt of the respondent’s reply to the complaint, the information
    provided by both parties is assessed and a recommendation is made that either
    conciliation should be attempted, or the President should terminate the
    complaint. It is the Commission’s general practice to provide
    complainant’s with a copy of a respondent’s written reply.
  • Prior to any decision that a complaint is to be terminated, for example on
    the ground that it is lacking in substance, complainants are given an
    opportunity to provide further information or submissions. Where a complaint is
    terminated, detailed reasons for the decision are provided.
  • The aggrieved person has 28 days from when the complaint was terminated to
    apply to have the matter heard by the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal
    Magistrates Court.


  • Conciliation is an informal and flexible approach to resolving complaints.
    Conciliation allows the parties to a complaint to state their point of view,
    listen to each other, discuss the issues in dispute and resolve the matter in a
    way that is acceptable to everyone involved.
  • Commission conciliators are impartial and are not an advocate for either
    party. Their role includes making sure that each party has an opportunity to
    present their point of view; providing information to the parties regarding the
    law; assisting the parties consider and explore possible terms of resolution;
    and intervening with a view to enabling substantive equality of process.
  • The appropriateness of attempting conciliation is assessed on a case by case
    basis and conciliation is not required to be undertaken with every
  • Conciliation may be attempted at any time during the complaint process and
    this can take place very early in the process.
  • The Commission aims to hold conciliation conferences in locations that are
    convenient and accessible to the parties and CHS officers regularly travel to
    conduct conferences interstate and in regional and remote areas.
  • Conciliation can happen in a number of ways - it can take the form of phone
    calls between the CHS officer and each of the parties, a teleconference or a
    face-to-face conference. While the majority of the Commission’s
    conciliation processes are conducted in the form of a face–to-meeting
    between the parties, it may not always be necessary or appropriate to bring the
    parties together. For example, where there is a significant power imbalance
    between the parties, where one party is emotionally vulnerable, or where a
    face-to-face meeting may exacerbate feelings of distress and anxiety,
    alternative conciliation formats are used.
  • In terms of confidentiality, the Commission cannot include anything that is
    said or done in the course of conciliation proceedings in any report that may be
    provided the court if the complaint is not resolved. Where a complaint is
    resolved through the Commission’s conciliation process, this is usually
    documented in a conciliation agreement which is signed by the parties. Parties
    can seek a wide range of outcomes in conciliation, such as an apology, policy
    changes, financial compensation or staff training. The Commission does not
    require the terms of conciliation agreements to be confidential and this is a
    matter that is negotiated between the parties.