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Sexual Harassment Issues: Need Legal Advice?

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Sexual Harassment

Employment Law

Are you dealing with harassment claims or issues and not sure where to begin? Here is a good starting place.

Specific Issues

On-Demand Resources

View on-demand information about specific issues related to workplace sexual harassment in Australia.

If you face workplace harassment issues, get advice from Anderson Legal with a fixed-price initial consultation.

This firm safeguards what matters most and acts purposefully in times of crisis. It acts for employers and employees.

Having successfully represented litigants in the High Court of Australia, Royal Commissions, Fair Work Commission and multiple other courts and tribunals, Andrew Anderson has a demonstrated record of success in complex and difficult cases.

As a boutique law firm, Anderson Legal is dedicated to providing expert advice and representation in dealing with workplace issues. Although based in Brisbane, this firm advises clients nationally.

Andrew Anderson, Legal Director, is an experienced lawyer who has been independently described by the Courier Mail as “one of the best legal minds” and a “leading corporate and white-collar crime lawyer” (16 December 2021)

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Workplace Sexual Harassment

If you have searched “harassment lawyer” or for an “employment lawyer“, you will see there are many options available. Why choose Anderson Legal?

If you seek an experienced lawyer to help you in dealing with harassment claims at work, Andrew Anderson has a proven track record of successfully guiding his clients through challenging, complex and serious problems.

The areas of law Anderson Legal handles are narrow yet deep. It ensures this firm can handle all cases to the highest standards, no matter the complexity.

Personalised Solutions

Anderson Legal takes the time to understand the circumstances and priorities of each of its clients and tailors solutions accordingly.

Many people attach their identity to their employment or profession and sexual harassment claims can significantly impact reputations and livelihoods.

Resolving workplace issues is not always straightforward, as other issues often affect decisions – reputational risks, financial realities, and opportunity costs.

This firm offers tailored strategies to resolve workplace concerns.

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What is sexual harassment?

If you are dealing with a sexual harassment claim or issue, it is essential to understand the definition of ‘sexual harassment’ in Australia. Across Australia, there are different laws that define sexual harassment.

One definition of ‘sexual harassment’, found in section 28A(1) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), states:

Meaning of sexual harassment

  1. For the purposes of this Division, a person sexually harasses another person (the person harassed ) if:
    1. the person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed; or
    2. engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed;

      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.

    It requires an assessment of all relevant circumstances, including the sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status, religious belief, race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, of the person harassed. It also requires consideration of the relationship between the person allegedly harassed and the person who is accused of making the advance or request or who engaged in the conduct.

    Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), the meaning of “conduct of a sexual nature” includes making a statement of a sexual nature to a person, or in the presence of a person, whether the statement is made orally or in writing.

    A similar definition of sexual harassment is found in section 119 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), which applies to Queensland-based issues and complaints brought under its anti-discrimination laws.

    Generally, Australian laws define sexual harassment as involving:

    • Unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature;
    • The conduct leaves the person feeling offended, humiliated or intimidated; and,
    • The reaction of the person is reasonable in the circumstances.

    If any part or element of the meaning of sexual harassment cannot be established, then the allegation cannot be substantiated.

    Examples of sexual harassment

    Seeing examples of what may be sexual harassment assist to illustrate the types of behaviours intended to fall within the meaning of ‘sexual harassment’. Examples of sexual harassment are given in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), which includes:

    • physical contact such as patting, pinching or touching in a sexual way;
    • unnecessary familiarity such as deliberately brushing against a person;
    • sexual propositions;
    • unwelcome and uncalled for remarks or insinuations about a person’s sex or private life;
    • suggestive comments about a person’s appearance or body;
    • offensive telephone calls of a sexual nature; and,
    • indecent exposure.

    The above illustrates that sexual harassment can be perpetrated in a variety of ways. However, for that same reason, there will be instances where a sexual harassment complaint is made wrongly or unfairly due to a misunderstanding about the context of a person’s conduct, or because in the absence of such context, innocuous events may be construed as sexual harassment. While there are many instances where there are disputes about what was actually said or the importance of some broader context that is relevant to what may have occurred, sometimes there is simply no room for interpretation.

    Due to the implications for anyone facing a sexual harassment complaint, it is often the case that a formal workplace investigation into the allegation will take place prior to any decisions being made. For that reason, it is critical for anybody facing allegations of this nature to understand their fundamental rights and responsibilities.

    Who can be liable for harassment?

    Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful. Sexual harassment may be committed by the owner of a business, managers, fellow employees, contractors or people seeking to hold one of those positions. Under amendments in 2011, it is also unlawful for a person to sexually harass another person in the course of providing or seeking, or offering to provide or receive, goods, services or facilities. This amendment increased the scope of how sexual harassment may occur in the workplace.

    So a person who sexually harasses another person may act unlawfully under sexual harassment laws (such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)), which can give rise to liability under civil claims. Some serious instances of sexual harassment may also lead to criminal complaints, such as where a sexual assault or an indecent exposure occurs.

    Employers may be vicariously liable for sexual harassment that occurs in a workplace unless they have taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent it. This is because the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), as well as other sexual harassment laws across states and territories in Australia, contains laws making employers vicariously liable. The existence of vicarious liability creates a powerful incentive for employers to ensure that they have appropriate policies and procedures in place to minimise the risk of sexual harassment occurring in their workplace, as well as to act in relation to allegations of sexual harassment.

    Contesting unfair harassment claims

    There are several actions an employee may take to challenge unfair sexual harassment allegations. This includes:

    • Responding to a workplace investigation into a sexual harassment claim;
    • Utilising dispute or resolution procedures as provided in a relevant modern award, enterprise agreement, employment contract, or the policies and procedures of the workplace;
    • Filing an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission;
    • Filing a general protections claim in the Fair Work Commission;
    • Contesting a discrimination claim in anti-discrimination commission or tribunal, such as the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) or Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC); or,
    • Filing a claim in a court, such as for breach of contract or in tort.

    Disputed sexual harassment claims can create legal, financial and reputational risks to all concerned. It is the reason why business operators, executives and employees dealing with a sexual harassment claim must be mindful of the risks involved in resolving such issues.

    What rights exist for respondents?

    The rights that exist for respondents to workplace sexual harassment claims are significantly influenced by industrial awards, enterprise agreements, employment contracts, as well as workplace policies and procedures. Responses may also be influenced or managed by professional or regulatory bodies, as well as criminal law constraints. Where an employee may face discipline for sexual harassment at work, they typically have rights relating to the following:

    • procedural fairness
    • reasonable accommodations
    • employee support
    • health and safety rights
    • self-incrimination privilege
    • confidentiality considerations

    People may ask, what does an unfair investigation or disciplinary process look like? Common concerns include:

    • Bias or perceived bias from the investigator / decision-maker;
    • Conflicts of interest between participants and the investigator / decision-maker;
    • Failure to follow relevant policies, procedures and industrial instruments;
    • Vague, unclear and unparticularised allegations;
    • Changes to the allegations or investigation without explanation;
    • Lack of transparency regarding the evidence gathered;
    • Failure to disclose the workplace investigation report;
    • Failure to give adequate notice before responses are required;
    • Directions to not communicate with potential witnesses;
    • Denial of access to a support person;
    • Delays in progressing or finalising the investigation; and,
    • Omission to investigate issues raised by a respondent.

    If you are dealing with a workplace sexual harassment issue and seek to obtain legal advice, contact Anderson Legal for a fixed-price initial consultation to get personalised advice about your situation.

    Specific Issues: Sexual Harassment

    Show cause letters for harassment

    Show cause letters for harassment

    Sexual harassment can result in disciplinary action, including dismissal. Employers will often issue a show cause letter for harassment claims, prior to making a decision as part of a disciplinary process.
    Getting informed about the options in responding to a show cause letter concerning sexual harassment is critical for anyone facing such issues.
    Unfair Sexual Harassment Allegations

    Unfair sexual harassment allegations

    If you are a business owner or manager facing a false or unfair sexual harassment claim at work, you are likely to want to know how to bring out the truth. Getting informed about your options is a good first step.
    Getting informed about your options is prudent for any workplace issue. It is all the more important if the allegations are false, unfair or vexatious.
    Unfair Workplace Investigations

    Unfair workplace investigations

    While fair workplace investigations may help to enforce workplace standards, comply with legal obligations, and minimise legal risks, unfair workplace investigations can do the opposite.
    Employers may face legal action for the harm or damage caused through inadequate or unfair workplace investigations.
    Workplace investigations into sexual harassment

    Workplace investigations into harassment

    If you are dealing with a workplace investigation into harassment, it is crucial to understand your rights and how to advance your interests.
    Free Consultation

    Anderson Legal offers a fixed-priced initial consultation to businesses, executives, and employees dealing with harassment issues.

    Who this firm assists

    Anderson Legal has a focus on resolving workplace problems. It provides advice and legal services to:

    • small business operators
    • executives in medium to large enterprises
    • employees in medium to large enterprises
    • public service employees

    The potential impact of workplace harassment claims on reputations, relationships, and livelihoods makes it critical to have an employment lawyer who is equal to the task. If you need an employment lawyer, there are many reasons why Anderson Legal should be your preferred choice:

    • Andrew Anderson, Legal Director, is an experienced lawyer who has been independently described by the Courier Mail as “one of the best legal minds” and a “leading corporate and white-collar crime lawyer” (16 December 2021).
    • Having successfully represented litigants in the High Court of Australia, Royal Commissions, Fair Work Commission, and multiple other courts and tribunals, Andrew Anderson has a demonstrated record of success in complex and difficult cases.
    • Prior to operating a law firm, Andrew Anderson worked as a Principal Crown Prosecutor in Queensland and barrister in practice at 8 Petrie Terrace Chambers. His depth of courtroom experience ranges from straightforward claims right through to complex trials and appeals.
    • Anderson Legal is a law firm that is dedicated to the best ideals of the legal profession. Seeking to exceed client expectations and working for just outcomes is an everyday pursuit.

    Read below how this firm can assist you, what it costs to get advice, and when to contact this firm.

    How this firm can assist

    With respect to workplace sexual harassment claims, this firm assists its clients in navigating all kinds of issues, including:

    • advising on whether certain conduct may be classified as ‘sexual harassment’
    • assisting with workplace investigations related to harassment claims
    • negotiating resolutions with respect to sexual harassment allegations
    • detailing the internal complaint processes and resolution possibilities
    • outlining the potential risks faced by a person facing harassment claims, such as:
      • criminal law referrals
      • professional conduct referrals
      • anti-corruption agency referrals
      • civil litigation claims
    • representing clients litigating sexual harassment allegations in courts and tribunals

    Note: Anderson Legal does not provide advice or representation for compensation claims under personal injury or workers’ compensation laws.

    What it costs to get advice

    Fixed price initial consultation

    Fixed-Price Consultation
    One-Hour Consultation
    No-Obligation Consultation

    A fixed-price initial consultation is $495 incl. GST for up to one hour, which may be tax deductible (consult your tax advisor).

    If you are dealing with a workplace harassment issue, book an appointment for an initial consultation with Anderson Legal. It is designed to deliver clear and timely advice that allows you to understand the relevant legal issues and make informed choices about the action that may be taken.

    The time is devoted to ensuring an understanding of the particular issues to allow advice to be given based on the information you provide, which may include:

    • The legal framework for sexual harassment:
      • Employer rights and responsibilities
      • Employee rights and responsibilities
      • Is it ‘sexual harassment’?
      • Specific procedures adopted by the workplace
    • Outline of possible disciplinary outcomes
    • Harassment claim response options:
      • Dealing with internal complaints
      • Responding to workplace investigations
      • Contesting allegations and findings
      • Preparing for disciplinary meetings
      • Possible referrals to external bodies
      • End of contract negotiations
    • Specific issues with harassment claims
      • Workplace investigations
      • Alternative resolution processes
      • Victimisation and reprisal action
      • Public servants accused of harassment
      • Executives accused of harassment

    An initial consultation with Anderson Legal is obligation-free, meaning there is no expectation or commitment to further legal work or costs. If you want to engage this firm to provide you with further advice or legal representation, estimates of costs will be provided as far as possible.

    Initial consultations are by appointment only, with in-person, video, and phone options possible.

    Representation for workplace harassment claims

    Anderson Legal is transparent about how it charges legal fees.

    This firm generally charges on a capped-fee, fixed-fee, or time-costed basis. How you are charged is something that may be negotiated and your preferences are taken into consideration.

    Please note that Anderson Legal does not undertake legal work on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis.

    In representing businesses, executives, and employees with workplace harassment claims, Anderson Legal puts in place a formal costs agreement with all clients. This includes a disclosure statement outlining important rights, as well as quotes or estimates for applicable legal fees.

    When to contact this firm

    Employment law issues can have strict timeframes, so it is prudent to seek legal advice as soon as possible for employment law concerns.

    Workplace sexual harassment can involve many legal complexities, which can have profound consequences for reputations, relationships, and livelihoods. It is the reason why it can be critical for business operators, executives and, employees to get urgent legal advice when dealing with such issues.

    If you want legal advice, you should call Anderson Legal to set up an appointment for a fixed-price initial consultation: