What is inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment?

Last updated
13 April 2022

Inappropriate behaviour by anyone in the workplace is unacceptable and can have significant consequences for individuals.

What is inappropriate behaviour?

Inappropriate behaviour may include:

  • workplace bullying (repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety)
  • harassment (unwelcome behaviour that intimidates, offends or humiliates a person because of a particular personal characteristic such as age, race, gender, disability, religion or sexuality)
  • sexual harassment (such as unwanted touching, inappropriate staring, suggestive comments, circulating sexually explicit material, requests or pressure for sex, repeated or inappropriate advances online, actual or attempted rape or sexual assault)
  • workplace incivility
  • impairment in the workplace by alcohol or other substances
  • workplace violence.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 as any unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Sexual harassment can be a form of discrimination and can have serious consequences for individuals and work teams.

Sexual harassment can occur any time in the workplace including at work related events such as Christmas parties or team functions. A single incident is enough to constitute sexual harassment. It does not have to be repeated.

Just because someone does not object to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace at the time it occurs, does not mean they consent to the behaviour.

Sexual harassment can take various forms and can involve:

  • unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing
  • inappropriate staring or leering
  • suggestive comments or smutty jokes
  • using suggestive or sexualised nicknames for co-workers
  • sexually explicit pictures, posters or gifts
  • circulating sexually explicit material
  • persistent unwanted invitations to go out on dates
  • requests or pressure for sex
  • intrusive questions or comments about a person’s private life or body
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
  • insults or taunts based on sex
  • sexual gestures or indecent exposure
  • following, watching or loitering nearby another person
  • sexually explicit or indecent physical contact
  • sexually explicit or indecent emails, phone calls, text messages or online interactions
  • repeated or inappropriate advances online
  • threatening to share intimate images or film without consent
  • actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.

Workplace sexual harassment can also be a behaviour that while not directed at a particular person, affects someone who is exposed to it or witnesses it (such as overhearing a conversation or seeing sexually explicit posters in the workplace).

Sexual harassment may also include behaviour which would also be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications.

Sexual harassment can also involve behaviour from constituents, employees from other offices or workplaces, visitors to the workplace or other people who have been in contact with an employee during the course of their work. This behaviour is also covered by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, and should be reported so appropriate action can be taken. Reporting options are outlined below.

The workplace bullying and harassment policy (see related resources) sets out relevant information.

Sexual interaction, flirtation, attraction or friendship that is invited, mutual, consensual or reciprocated does not constitute sexual harassment.

Additional information on sexual harassment can be found in the WHS library.

What is expected of you?

It is expected that everyone in the workplace will behave in a professional manner, and treat each other with dignity and respect.

All MOP(S) Act employees and parliamentarians have a role to play in eliminating inappropriate behaviour by:

  • refusing to participate in this behaviour
  • reporting any experiences of this behaviour
  • supporting colleagues in saying no to this behaviour
  • managers taking appropriate and timely management action.

Those obligations are consistent with the duties as a worker under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

All reports of inappropriate behaviour will be treated seriously and investigated in a prompt, confidential and impartial manner. People who report inappropriate behaviour should not be victimised.

If you have concerns about workplace bullying or harassment the following information is available:

All incidents or injuries related to inappropriate behaviour should be reported as soon as possible to the WHS services provider, Marsh, on 1300 418 288, or logged online through SkyTrust, to ensure a prompt response and reduce the risk that the situation will continue or escalate.