Effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of
Practice for Employers
Foreword from Elizabeth
Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Welcome to the 2008 edition of Effectively preventing and responding to
sexual harassment: A Code of Practice for Employers (Code of Practice). This
publication provides practical guidance to employers on how to meet their legal
obligations to prevent and manage sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment remains a serious challenge for employers in Australia. A
telephone survey conducted in 2008 by the Australian Human Rights Commission
found that 22% of women and 5% of men have experienced workplace sexual
harassment at some time.
Disturbingly, the telephone survey found that there is a significant lack of
understanding as to what sexual harassment is. Around one in five respondents
who expressly said they did not experience sexual harassment according to
the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), went on report
experiencing behaviours that may in fact be sexual harassment under the law.
The results from the telephone survey suggest that organisations need to
reassess the way their staff are trained to identify and deal with sexual
harassment. Training should be behaviourally based so that everyone understands
the types of behaviours that are unacceptable in workplaces.
The good news about sexual harassment is that there are simple steps we can
take to prevent it from happening.
There is also a clear cut business case to support taking preventative action
against sexual harassment. The telephone survey found that sexual harassment
often escalates over time from non-physical behaviours such as sexually
suggestive jokes to more serious behaviours such as unwelcome and inappropriate
Creating a culture that does not tolerate sexual harassment and taking swift
and decisive action to stop sexual harassment before it escalates can impact on
the bottom line by reducing the risk of absenteeism, lost productivity, staff
turnover and low morale.
I challenge all employers to show leadership on this issue. By taking a
strong stance on sexual harassment, employers can send a clear message to
employees that there is no place for sexual harassment in their workplace.
It has been nearly a quarter of a century since the Sex Discrimination Act
1984 (Cth) was introduced in Australia, yet sexual harassment remains deeply
embedded in our workplaces. With a concerted effort from all, we can work
towards an Australia where our workplaces are free from sexual harassment.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Commissioner responsible for Age
Australian Human Rights Commission