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A Bad Business - Fact Sheet: Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment

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A Bad Business
(Review of sexual harassment in employment complaints 2002)

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Fact Sheet:

Legal Definition of Sexual

Sexual harassment is an unwelcome sexual
advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct
of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated
or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction
in the circumstances.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)
defines the nature and circumstances in which sexual harassment is
unlawful. It is also unlawful for a person to be victimised for making,
or proposing to make, a complaint of sexual harassment to the Human
Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Examples of sexually harassing behaviour

  • unwelcome touching;
  • staring or leering;
  • sexually explicit pictures or posters;
  • unwanted invitations to go out
    on dates;
  • requests for sex;
  • intrusive questions about a person’s
    private life or body;
  • unnecessary familiarity, such
    as deliberately brushing up against a person;
  • insults or taunts based on sex;
  • sexually explicit physical contact;
  • sexually explicit emails or SMS
    text messages.

A working environment or workplace
culture that is sexually permeated or hostile will also amount to
unlawful sexual harassment. Some of the factors which may indicate
a potentially hostile environment include the display of obscene or
pornographic materials, general sexual banter, crude conversation
or innuendo and offensive jokes.

The Sex Discrimination Act makes
sexual harassment unlawful in many areas of public life, including
in employment situations, educational institutions, the provision
of goods, services and accommodation and the administration of Commonwealth
laws or programs.

A person who sexually harasses is primarily
responsible for the sexual harassment. However, in many cases, employers
and others can be held responsible for acts of sexual harassment done
by their employees or agents.

Employers may limit their liability
if they can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the
sexual harassment occurring. Reasonable steps may include policies
and procedures designed to create a harassment-free environment. It
could also include procedures to deal with allegations of discrimination
made by employees or customers. To be effective, policies must be
well implemented, including through the provision of ongoing training,
communication and reinforcement.

This fact sheet is also
available for download in PDF Document for DownloadPDF and Word Document for DownloadWord formats.

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updated: 12 November 2003