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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

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Your workplace culture should represent the values that your organisation and employees are meant to uphold.

This applies to every industry, including the mining and resources sector, known for its culture of silence on this significant issue.

Employers need to create a safe work environment that promotes a respectful workplace culture, free of discrimination and harassment.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual Harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours, or other undesirable behaviour of a sexual nature where any reasonable person would feel harassed, offended, or intimidated.

Under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and state discrimination laws, it is illegal in Australia to sexually harass another individual.

Some examples of sexual harassment include:

● Staring or leering.

● Suggestive comments or jokes or banter.

● Unwelcome touching.

● Displayed sexually explicit images.

● Emailing or texting pornography or sexually explicit jokes.

● Requests for sex.

● Invasive questions about a person's private life or body.

● Unnecessary touch, such as purposely brushing against someone.

● Sexually explicit physical contact.

"Australia now lags behind other countries in preventing and responding to sexual harassment." Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner

According to recent reports by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Australia currently lags behind other countries in responding to and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. One of the more recent studies done in 2020 shows the following:

  • 1 in 3 people have been sexually harassed in the workplace in the past five years.

  • Almost two in five women (39%) and one in four men (26%) have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years, with four out of five people (79%) saying men had harassed them.

  • Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people are more likely to have been victims of sexual harassment than non-indigenous people.

  • Fewer than 17% of victims made a formal complaint about their experience, and only 45% of those complaints were met with a change in the workplace.

  • Younger people are more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace, with 54% of victims being between 18 and 34.

  • At least 40% of their workforce had experienced sexual harassment, with women being more than twice as likely as men to experience it.

In response to this study, the Minerals Council of Australia is taking steps to eliminate sexual harassment to help create safe and fair workplaces.

One step they are taking is to expand the mineral industry’s scope of safety and health policies. The Minerals Council of Australia has also released a strong and direct statement on the importance of eliminating sexual harassment in Australian mining workplaces and has released a toolkit to support businesses with implementing change. The toolkit includes a number of fact sheets and templates to provide guidance to the mining industry on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

As echoed above, as an employer, it is your responsibility to take every appropriate action to prevent sexual harassment from happening in your workplace. This includes being able to identify when sexual harassment is taking place, what constitutes harassment and how to provide support for those who have experienced it.

Actions You Can Take To Prevent Sexual Harassment

A person who sexually harasses another person is primarily responsible for their actions, but in some cases, employers may also be held accountable.

This is why employers need to provide extensive training and education to employees on what sexual harassment is and the consequences that accompany it.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins reiterated that sexual harassment is not a women's issue - it is a societal issue that every workplace can help to address. She notes:

"Workplace sexual harassment is not inevitable. It is not acceptable. It is preventable."

The failure to address cultural elements that enable sexual harassment to occur can lead to trauma for individuals involved, public scrutiny and costly payouts for a business.

The conditions that enable sexual harassment in the workplace can be mitigated in the following ways.

1. Involve Senior Management and the Board

Senior leadership communication of behavioural standards and their support of safe and respectful workplaces is one of the quickest and easiest influencers of change in an organisation.

Have the board and senior management lead by example with unequivocal statements of no tolerance. Hold people accountable for their actions, including senior leaders and board members. Behavioural standards need to adhere to the Hot Stove Principle of discipline.

2. Provide Extensive Sexual Harassment Training and Education

Training your team to handle employee concerns or misconduct can provide a better-equipped workplace and allow employees to feel more comfortable taking action and reporting incidents.

Employees rely on managers and senior staff for information on responding to risks and reporting inappropriate behaviour.

Providing employees with adequate training and education on sexual harassment and bystander intervention can help them overcome the fear of reporting incidents and provide them with the confidence to intervene when sexual harassment is taking place.


Our online training programmes are due for release end March 2022, our online training is robust and comprehensive. Sign-up here to be notified of release.

  • Sexual Harassment in the Mining Workplace - Employers edition

  • Sexual Harassment in the Workplace - Employers edition


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