Civil Law Factsheets

Civil Claims for Sexual Harassment

Civil Claims for Sexual Harassment

National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service: 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511

 Talk with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Supporter: 13YARN 13 92 76 (24 hours/7 days)

Rainbow Sexual, Domestic and Family Violence Helpline1800 497 212 (10am-5pm/7 days)

Blue Knot Foundation: 1300 657 380 (Available 9 am to 5 pm AEST)

  • phone and email-based support for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse, as well as for their supporters and the professionals who work with them

If you need immediate help or danger, call 000.


Are you in need of a sexual harassment lawyer?

You may be able to make a complaint against your employer or a fellow employee if you suffer sexual harassment in your workplace. At O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors we recognise that both women and men may experience sexual harassment in the workplace. The law plays an important part in holding employers accountable in ensuring that everyone can feel safe in their workplace.

How we can help – ‘No win, no fee’

We represent employees affected by sexual harassment only. As such, we do not act on behalf of the harassers. We can explain your legal rights to you simply so that you can make a fully informed decision about taking legal action. We recognise that your experience with sexual harassment may be traumatic. Therefore, we employ a trauma-informed practice. This means that we are sensitive to your needs, and provide a safe and confidential environment for you to speak about your case.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome sexual conduct that ‘reasonably’ makes you feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can include:

  • Sexual assault and stalking;
  • Indecent assault;
  • Sexualised comments or overly familiar questions that make you feel uncomfortable;
  • Touching or brushing up against you; and
  • Showing you pornographic or sexually suggestive material.

Under the Commonwealth Sexual Discrimination Act 1984, there are certain circumstances will be taken into account when determining what is reasonable. These include:

  • Your age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status, religion and race or national or ethnic origin;
  • The relationship between you and the person harassing you, including any power imbalances;
  • If you have a disability; and
  • Any other circumstances that could be a relevant factor.

** This fact sheet is based on the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). Elements may differ depending on jurisdiction.

What law governs Sexual Harassment in Sydney and NSW

There are a number of intersecting areas of law governing sexual harassment in the workplace. These include:

  1. Criminal law;
  2. Discrimination legislation. The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 governs the whole of Australia, and the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) governs NSW;
  3. Common Law. This includes actions in tort for assault, battery and breach of contract, with a personal injury component; and
  4. Actions under Workplace Health and Safety Legislation;

How Does Sexual Harassment Fit With Discrimination?​

Harassment and sexual harassment are a form of direct discrimination. This is as it is detrimental treatment on the basis of a protected attributed, namely sex.

Sexual harassment is unlawful in every State and Territory jurisdiction as well as Federally. The definitions of sexual harassment in State and Federal law are relatively similar. Section 28 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) defines sexual harassment:

“as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that could cause the victim to feel offended, humiliated or intimidated 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.”

There is no singular definition of “conduct” of a sexual nature. However, it has  interpretation widely to include sexual questions or sending emails containing sexual jokes and cartoons.

Proving Sexual Harassment Has Occurred​

There are many elements to satisfy to prove sexual harassment.

  1. The conduct must be unwelcome. The victim did not solicit or invite the conduct. The victim regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive.
  2. In circumstances where a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the victim could experience offence, humiliation or intimidation.  Whether the perpetrator should have anticipated the victim’s response in the circumstances.

Sexual Harassment in the workplace

Whether an employer is liable for the unlawful actions of their staff is a complex question. The answer will vary depending on the area of law a claim is bought under. If you experience sexual harassment within the workplace and want to bring a claim against your employer, speak to us about your circumstances. We will explain to you what your legal options are.

Note that the workplace can include events that are organised by your employer, but occur outside of ‘work’ e.g. social functions, conferences or work trips.

Sexual Harassment time limits

Time limits vary depending on the area of law.

Complaints to the AHRC under the Anti-Discrimination Act need to commence within 6 months after the offensive conduct occurs. However, If the offensive conduct occurred prior to 13 April 2017, you have 12 months to lodge a complaint with the AHRC.

In other circumstances with a personal injury component, you have 3 years to begin legal action.

Speak to one of our solicitors to understand more about the time limits and what this means for you.

Our previous sexual harassment clients

See how we assisted CN to negotiate a severance payment after she experienced workplace harassment and bullying by her boss. She was exposed to offensive and inappropriate behaviour which caused her to suffer stress, fear and anxiety to the extent that she did not want to return to the workplace.

Contact Us

If you have experienced harassment in the workplace, speak to one of our civil lawyers who can advise you on your legal options. Call us on (02) 9261 4281 to book a free initial consultation.


O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors
p: 02 9261 4281
a: Level 4, 219-223 Castlereagh St,
Sydney NSW 2000

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