Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The #MeToo social media campaign has highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment, in particular in the workplace. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is never acceptable, and employees in Perth and throughout Western Australia should be aware of their legal rights.

Young adult woman standing in shadows holding sketchbook into the light, covering face with hashtag MeToo written on page


In a recent post we discussed the types of incidents in the workplace which might cause a person to become unwell and subsequently make a claim for workers’ compensation in Western Australia.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Know Your Rights

Sexual harassment is against the law in Western Australia and may provide the basis for a claim in workers’ compensation and damages under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984.  Some types of sexual harassment may also be a criminal offence.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

The Australian Human Rights Commission identified the following behaviours as examples of sexual harassment:

  • unwelcome touching;
  • staring or leering;
  • suggestive comments or jokes;
  • 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; and
  • sexually explicit emails or SMS text messages.

Don’t Just Endure Unwanted Advances

You do not have to endure sexual harassment in the workplace. However, the reality is that most people do endure these unwanted assaults for fear of losing their job, not being believed or knowing that the workplace culture does not treat sexual harassment complaints seriously.

What Should You Do?

If you are being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace you should:

  • Document any offers or threats that are being made for sexual favours.
  • If there were witness’s present record their details.
  • Document any sexual advances or comments.
  • Do not delete any emails or text messages.
  • Print any emails or text messages.
  • Report any sexual harassment in the workplace to your employer in writing and ask the employer to investigate.
  • Speak to your doctor as soon as you are aware that your health is being affected.

The health consequences of sexual harassment are noted to be:

  • Loss of self – esteem.
  • Post – traumatic stress.
  • Physical symptoms including headaches and blood pressure.

Case Study

Collins v Smith (Human Rights) [2015] VCAT 1992 (23 December 2015)

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal awarded Ms Collins, the complainant in a sexual harassment case over $330,000 in damages. Ms Collins was a worker who claimed and received workers’ compensation payments under the Victorian statutory workers’ compensation scheme. Ms Collins also made a claim for damages under the Equal Opportunity Act.

One issue before the tribunal was whether the Victorian workers’ compensation act limited the amount of compensation which could be awarded. The respondent submitted that Ms Collins could only recover damages for personal injury in accordance with the workers’ compensation act.

Judge Jenkins rejected the respondent’s argument and stated that the limits imposed by the workers’ compensation act do not apply to an action for damages for physical or mental injury under the Equal Opportunity Act.

Ms Collins was awarded general damages in the amount of $180,000. In addition, Ms Collins was awarded aggravated damages of $20,000, $120,000 for past and future loss of earnings and superannuation and $12,280 for out of pocket expenses.

Contact a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

If you are being sexually harassed at work and your employer is not responding appropriately to your complaints, you should seek legal advice. Your employer may be liable to pay compensation under the West Australian workers’ compensation act and damages under the West Australian Equal Opportunities Act.

Perth City Legal provide accurate, practical legal advice in Western Australia. Contact us today, for a confidential, free initial consultation.

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