This document is part of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace resource.

It is acknowledged that organisations will have a range of approaches to managing complaints of sexual harassment. Some organisations will have a specific process for sexual harassment. Others will use a generalised complaints process designed to manage a range of workplace matters including misconduct, performance and sexual harassment.

Neither the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 nor the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 specifies how a complaints process should be structured. However, a complaints process should allow for flexibility to deal with complaints in line with an organisation’s size, structure and resources. All Victorian Public Sector complaints processes must link to relevant industrial and contractual instruments.

Regardless of the structure of the complaints process, it is recommended that organisations ensure that multiple avenues are available for complaints to be made including via email, phone or in person.

6.1 Reporting sexual harassment at work

Those who have experienced sexual harassment can report in a number of ways. Complainants are able to make a complaint internally, to their manager, a HR practitioner (or equivalent), or to an external body. Making an internal complaint at work does not preclude a complainant from also making an external complaint and vice versa. External bodies that can consider a complaint of sexual harassment include:

  • Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission;
  • Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal[9]; and
  • Australian Human Rights Commission.

A person may also make a complaint to WorkSafe or through internal safety reporting mechanisms if they feel that sexual harassment has caused them to feel unsafe in the workplace. A claim of sexual harassment may also form part of a sex discrimination claim under the Fair Work Act 2009’s general protections provisions, or as part of a negligence/personal injury claim.[10]

A person may also make a complaint to Victoria Police[11] if the sexual harassment constitutes criminal conduct, such as sexual assault or stalking.

6.1.1 Responding to sexual harassment

The tone of the first response to a complaint of sexual harassment is very important. It is paramount that the complainant is treated with respect, understanding and concern. This approach ensures that experiences are not minimised and that victim blaming is avoided. Employment support services (such as the EAP) should be provided to a complainant to ensure they have independent professional support during the process.

Given the highly sensitive nature of sexual harassment and because instances can range from minor to criminal offence, organisations are encouraged to consider the processes listed in the checklist for managers and practitioners in the Appendices.

This checklist provides prompts to support managers and HR practitioners (or equivalent) to respond appropriately and consistently when approached with a complaint of sexual harassment. These steps have been designed to be followed regardless of whether the complaint is made to the complainant’s direct manager, a different manager or any other designated officer i.e. HR practitioners (or equivalent).

Certain aspects from the table (such as those that relate to natural justice and confidentiality) are further explained in other sections in this Guide (refer to section 7.2 and 7.3 respectively).

[9] Complaints in relation to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 can also be made directly to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

[10] See Mathews v Winslow Constructors (Vic) Pty Ltd [2015] VSC 728.

[11] Victoria Police may not always be the relevant agency to contact when making a sexual harassment claim. For example, should sexual harassment occur on an interstate trip, it may (but not always) be more appropriate for the complainant to contact the relevant police agency in that state or territory.