What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment occurs when a person makes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours or engages 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 and/or intimidated.

(Sex Discrimination Act 1984, updated 1 Jan 2014)


Sexual harassment in employment is serious and against the law under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. Sexual harassment does not have to be repeated or continuous to be against the law. It can be a one-off incident.
Sexual harassment is not sexual interaction, flirtation, attraction or friendship which is invited, mutual, consensual or reciprocated.
Sexual harassment is prohibited in all work-related activity. For example, at the workplace, during working hours and at work-related activities such as training courses, conferences, field trips, work functions and office parties.
A working environment or workplace culture that is sexually ‘hostile’ will also amount to unlawful sexual harassment. Some of the factors which may indicate a potentially hostile environment include the display of obscene or pornographic materials, general sexual banter, crude conversation or innuendo and offensive jokes.


Examples of conduct likely to be considered sexual in nature:

  • touching, hugging, cornering or kissing
  • inappropriate staring or leering
  • insults or taunts of a sexual nature
  • repeated or inappropriate invitations to go out on dates
  • requests for sexual favours
  • repeated or inappropriate advances on email or social networking websites
  • intrusive questions about a person’s private life or physical appearance
  • sexual gestures, indecent exposure or inappropriate display of the body
  • sexually suggestive comments or jokes
  • sexually explicit pictures, posters, gifts, emails or text messages
  • requests or pressure for sex or other sexual acts
  • inappropriate physical contact

(Ending workplace sexual harassment: A resource for small, medium and large employers, 2014, Australian Human Rights Commission)

Some types of sexual harassment may also be offences under criminal law, for example physical molestation or assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking and obscene communications (telephone calls, letters, etc).