Sexism can take many forms, such as jokes or comments, sexual harassment or treating a person unfairly because of his or her sex.
In some cases, these forms of sexism can be against the law. Sex discrimination is when someone is treated less favourably, or not given the same opportunities, as a person of a different sex because of their sex.
Sexism can also be against the law when it is expressed as discrimination against a person on the basis of gender identity, intersex status, sexual orientation, marital or relationship status, family responsibilities, pregnancy or potential pregnancy or breastfeeding.
The Sex Discrimination Act protects people against discrimination in many areas of public life including, employment, education, getting or using services or renting or buying a house or unit. There are some limited exemptions.
Sexual harassment is against the law in specific areas of public life, including in the workplace. Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour where a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It has nothing to do with mutual attraction or consensual behaviour.
Innuendo, suggestive comments or jokes and insults or taunts based on sex can amount to sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can also occur where a work environment or culture is sexually charged or ‘hostile’, even if the conduct is not directed at any particular employee. Innuendo can be a contributing factor to a sexually hostile workplace.
Example: In a situation where sexual advances had been made and rejected, the comment “I really like working under you”, said with an emphasis on the word “under”, is an example of innuendo that could constitute sexual harassment.
A person who sexually harasses someone else is primarily responsible for their behaviour. However, in many cases, employers can also be held responsible for sexual harassment by their employees towards other staff, clients and customers. This is called ‘vicarious liability’.