Understand how the law defines sexual harassment in connection with work.
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From 6 March 2023, the law prohibits (does not allow) sexual harassment in connection with work.
A person must not sexually harass another person who is:
- a worker in a business or undertaking, or
- seeking to become a worker in a particular business or undertaking, or
- conducting a business
if the harassment occurs in connection with the other person being or seeking to become a worker, or conducting a business.
What is sexual harassment
The law says that a person sexually harasses another person if they:
- make an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, or
- engage in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature
in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
Sexual harassment can include:
- inappropriate physical contact
- intrusive questions about a person’s private life or physical appearance
- sharing or threatening to share intimate images or film without consent
- unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing
- repeated or inappropriate invitations to go out on dates
- sexually suggestive comments or jokes that offend or intimidate
- requests or pressure for sex or other sexual acts
- sexually explicit pictures, posters or gifts
- actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
- being followed, watched or someone loitering (hanging around)
- sexually explicit comments made in person or in writing, or indecent messages (SMS, social media), phone calls or emails – including the use of emojis with sexual connotations
- sexual gestures, indecent exposure or inappropriate display of the body
- unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that occurs online or via some form of technology – including in virtual meetings
- inappropriate staring or leering
- repeated or inappropriate advances on email or other online social technologies
Sexual harassment can involve conduct by one or more people and can be a single incident, repeated conduct or part of a course of conduct.
Sexual harassment is against the law regardless of the sex, sexual orientation or gender identity of the people involved.
The intention of the alleged harasser is not relevant. The conduct may be sexual in nature even if the alleged harasser has no sexual interest in the person harassed, or is not aware that they are acting in a sexual way.
Sexual harassment 'in connection with work'
The Fair Work Act 2009 applies to sexual harassment ‘in connection with work’.
For example, it applies where a worker is sexually harassed, when they are working, by:
- another worker
- a customer or client of the person’s employer or principal, a supplier of the employer or business, or
- a visitor to the workplace.
This definition applies where the sexual harassment happened or started on or after 6 March 2023.
Note: Employers or principals may be responsible (liable) for the conduct of their employees and agents. This means the conduct of the employee or agent is taken to be the conduct of the employer or principal.
Find out more about the Responsibilities of employers and principals.
If the sexual harassment happened or started before 6 March 2023
The law about workplace sexual harassment changed on 6 March 2023.
If the sexual harassment happened or started before 6 March 2023, the law applies to sexual harassment at work. This means the sexual harassment must have occurred when the worker was at work, in a constitutionally-covered business. A worker can be at work even when they’re working away from the work premises.
If a worker believes they were sexually harassed at work, and the harassment happened or started before 6 March 2023, they can apply to the Commission for an order to stop sexual harassment at work.
For detailed information about when a worker is at work, see our Orders to stop sexual harassment: transitional arrangements benchbook.
Who is 'a worker'
A worker is a person who performs work in any capacity, including as:
- an employee
- a contractor or subcontractor
- a small business owner who works in the business
- an employee of a contractor or subcontractor
- an employee of a labour hire agency
- an outworker
- an apprentice or trainee
- a student on work experience
- a volunteer.
Sexual harassment can cause physical and psychological harm. It can have a wide range of negative impacts, including feelings of isolation, loss of confidence and stress or depression.
If you are in distress, please seek support for your health and wellbeing.
- Complete our free workplace sexual harassment online course.
- Read the definition of sexual harassment in section 28A of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
- Read Part 3-5A of the Fair Work Act about our role and powers (what we can do).
- If the sexual harassment started or happened before 6 March 2023, read Part 6-4B of the Fair Work Act about our role and powers (what we can do).