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.
Examples of sexual harassment include:
- staring, leering or unwelcome touching
- suggestive comments or jokes
- unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sex
- intrusive questions about a person's private life or body
- unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
- emailing pornography or rude jokes
- displaying images of a sexual nature around the workplace
- communicating content of a sexual nature through social media or text messages.
Sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act in different areas of public life, including employment, service delivery, accommodation and education. Some types of sexual harassment may also be criminal offences.
Example: A young woman was employed at a medical centre. At work, the director of the medical centre, who was an older male doctor, fondled and brushed against the women’s breasts, patted her bottom, tried to kiss her and massaged her shoulders.
Sexual harassment can also happen where a work environment or culture is sexually charged or ‘hostile’, even if the conduct is not directed at any particular employee.
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. This is called ‘vicarious liability’.
Employers have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in employment, such as implementing a sexual harassment policy and providing training or information on sexual harassment.