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Sexual Harassment (A Code in Practice) - A Short Guide to the Code of Practice

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Sexual Harassment
(A Code in Practice)

A Short Guide to the Code of Practice

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual conduct which makes a
person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated where that reaction
is reasonable in the circumstances. Sexual harassment in employment is
unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Sexual harassment in the workplace can take various forms.
It can involve unwelcome touching, hugging or kissing; suggestive comments
or jokes; unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sex;
insults based on your sex or sexually explicit emails or SMS messages.

Both men and women can experience sexual harassment at work;
however, it is most commonly experienced by women.

For more information about sexual harassment see 1.2.

When is sexual harassment prohibited?

Sexual harassment is prohibited in almost every employment
situation and relationship. For example, sexual harassment is prohibited
at the workplace, during working hours, at work-related activities such
as training courses, conferences, field trips, work functions and office
Christmas parties. It is also prohibited between almost all workplace

For more information on who is covered by sexual harassment laws see 2.2.

What are my legal obligations as an employer?

There are good practical reasons for preventing sexual harassment
in the workplace: policies and procedures preventing harassment assist
employers in maintaining positive workplace relationships and can improve
employee motivation and performance. However, there are also laws requiring
employers to take preventative action against sexual harassment.

As an employer, you may be held legally responsible for acts
of sexual harassment committed by your employees. This is called "vicarious
liability". The Sex Discrimination Act makes employers liable unless they
have taken all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment taking place.

There are two main actions that employers must take to show
that they have taken all reasonable steps and avoid liability for sexual

First, to prevent sexual harassment an employer should
have a sexual harassment policy, implement it as fully as possible and
monitor its effectiveness.

How do I write a sexual harassment policy?

For information on how
to write a
sexual harassment policy see 4.2.2.

How do I implement and
monitor a
sexual harassment policy?

For information on how to implement
and monitor a
sexual harassment policy, see 4.2.

Secondly, if sexual harassment does occur, take appropriate
remedial action: an employer should have appropriate procedures for dealing
with grievances and complaints once they are made.

How do I deal with complaints?

For more information on establishing
internal procedures for dealing with sexual harassment grievances
or complaints see 5.2.

For more information on liability and "all reasonable steps" see 3.2 and 4.2.

Other employer duties

In managing sexual harassment in the workplace, you may also
have obligations under other laws, such as privacy, defamation, occupational
health and safety and industrial laws.

For a brief overview of some of these obligations, see 8.1.

Are there any specific guidelines for small business?

There is no exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act for small
business. Employers in all small businesses, whatever the size, may be
vicariously liable for acts of sexual harassment committed by employees
unless all reasonable steps were taken to prevent it occurring.

Small businesses will still have to write and implement a sexual
harassment policy, and they still need to deal with complaints in an appropriate
way. However, courts will take into account the size and resources of
a business in deciding what is reasonable to expect them to do to prevent
sexual harassment.

For specific assistance for small businesses see 6.2.

Further assistance

For further assistance on sexual harassment issues, employers
can contact HREOC or their State or Territory anti-discrimination agency. Contact details for these organisations are
at Appendix B
Employers may also seek assistance from employer
organisations, small business or industry associations.

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Last updated:
24 March 2004.