What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment refers to an unwelcome sexual advance or request for sexual favours or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.  Sexual harassment does not need to be repeated or continuous, it can involve a single incident.

Sexual harassment can take many forms including, but not limited to unwelcome:

  • physical touching, hugging or kissing;
  • staring or leering at someone or at parts of their body;
  • suggestive comments or jokes;
  • insults or taunts based on sex;
  • displaying sexually suggestive pictures, videos, audiotapes, emails, blogs, books or objects;
  • intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body;
  • persistent requests for dates or pressure for sexual favours; or
  • molestation, indecent exposure, indecent assault, sexual assault or rape.

Sexual harassment can occur at work, including via email, text messaging and social media.  It can also take place when interacting at a work-related social function, or during internal or external training.

Sexual harassment, in some circumstances, can amount to a criminal offence.

What can I do if I’ve been sexually harassed?

There are a number of things you can do if you believe that you have been sexually harassed.  You should make a written note of the event and the nature of the behaviour, so that you have a record of what has occurred.

For personal support, you may wish to confidentially discuss your concerns with:

  • the AMA
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • External 24 hour agency – eg. Lifeline
  • Doctors Health Advisory Service
  • your General Practitioner

Depending upon the circumstances and how you feel about the incident(s), you may feel comfortable speaking to the person you believe has sexually harassed you.

If you do not feel comfortable speaking to the person yourself, you may seek the assistance of your line manager, mentor or supervisor to speak to the person who you believe has sexually harassed you, on your behalf. This can be useful where the person demonstrating the unacceptable behaviour may not understand or appreciate the effect that their behaviour may be having, and this could be an opportunity to reflect on their behaviour and make changes.

The discussion and any outcomes should remain confidential.

Depending on the circumstances, a more formal approach may be appropriate in accordance with the relevant WA Health policies detailed below. The policies contain mandatory obligations for all WA Health employees.

Code of Conduct

The WA health system Code of Conduct identifies CORE values fundamental in all areas of work, including collaboration, openness, respect and empowerment. The Code of Conduct translates these values into principles that guide conduct in the workplace.  The intent of the Code is to promote a positive workplace culture by providing a framework to support ethical day-to-day conduct and decision making.

The Code outlines the process that must be followed if a staff suspects that a breach of the Code has occurred. Generally, in the first instance a staff member should report the matter to their manager, but if they are not comfortable doing this they can report the matter to a senior member of staff.

Equal Opportunity, Discrimination and Harassment Policy

The Equal Opportunity, Discrimination and Harassment Policy ensure all WA health employees understand the expectations, as well as the legal obligations in relation to discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

The policy provides details about what sexual harassment is, including what unlawful sexual harassment in employment means under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

Employee Grievance Resolution Policy

The Employee Grievance Resolution Policy outlines the requirements and responsibilities of health service providers to establish an Employee Grievance Resolution process.

A “grievance” is broadly defined to mean any real or perceived problem or concern in relation to work, the work environment or working relationship raised with the employer by an employee. A grievance could include an allegation of sexual harassment.  However, if at any stage of a grievance process the employer determines the matter constitutes suspected misconduct, the matter is to be progressed in accordance with the Discipline Policy.

Grievances are required to be considered seriously and to be dealt with fairly, sensitively and as quickly as possible. Under the policy, attempts should be made to resolve the matter informally before resorting to more formal and structured processes.

Discipline Policy

The Discipline Policy outlines how a suspected breach of discipline (which includes a suspected act of misconduct) will be dealt with.  Should a complaint, including a complaint of sexual harassment be reported to human resources, the complaint will be considered and depending upon the circumstances, may be reported to an external agency.  Under the Policy, a “Decision Maker” will be appointed and will assess the information and progress the matter as considered appropriate in accordance with the options available under the Policy.

External avenues

Sexual harassment which occurs at a workplace in circumstances where the harassed person reasonably believes they will be disadvantaged, or are in fact disadvantaged, at work, for rejecting the advance or objecting to the conduct is unlawful under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

A person who believes they have been subject to sexual harassment under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 can lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission.

Sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

This occurs where a person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or engages in unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in circumstances where a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

A person who believes they have been sexually harassed under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

If you believe the sexual harassment amounts to a criminal offence, you should report the incident to the WA Police.

Depending upon the circumstances, you may be required to report the incident to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) if the incident constitutes “sexual misconduct in the practice of the profession.”