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Sexual harassment in the workplace

What is Sexual Harassment?

Section 28A (1) of the Sex Discrimination Act (CTH) 1984 (SDA) defines sexual harassment behaviour as:

(a) a person who makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed; or

(b) engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed;

In circumstances in which a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Sexual Harassment in the Employment Context

Section 28B of the SDA makes it unlawful for an employer to sexually harass an employee or an employee to sexually harass a fellow employee.

Sexual harassment in employment by either fellow employees or the boss is considered to be unlawful discrimination.

Section 106 of the SDA imposes vicarious liability on employers for sexual harassment by one employee towards another. The employer is liable if they fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent the employee form doing the sexual harassment.

This means the employer could be held responsible for any remedy the employee may seek as a result of the sexual harassment by another employee.

Similar provisions are found in the Anti-Discrimination Act (NSW) 1977.

If you have sustained an injury either physical or psychological you can make a claim for workers compensation benefits under the NSW Workers Compensation Act 1987.

Complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission

A complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace should be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (within 12 months of the acts occurring). The AHRC has the power to investigate and conciliate any such complaint’s and make a determination as to whether the sexual harassment was unlawful discrimination in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act.

Proceedings in the Federal Court

Once a complaint has been dealt with a party to the complaint may commence proceedings in the Federal Court (within 60 days of the decision by the AHRC). If the Federal Court is satisfied that unlawful discrimination has occurred, they can order an employer to pay compensation for any loss or damage suffered to the employee who has experienced sexually harassment.

Section 46PO of the AHRC Act allows the Federal Court to award damages for unlawful discrimination.

Compensation payable is for pain and suffering, distress and loss of income if any.

Such compensation historically has been of limited value however a recent decision by the Federal Court in Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australian Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 82 has significantly increased the damages awarded in workplace sexual harassment claims.

The ‘Oracle’ Case

Employees who have experiences sexual assault and harassment in the workplace may be able to claim damages for embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life, psychological injuries, and other forms of economic and non-economic loss.

In the breakthrough ‘Oracle’ case the applicant was sexually harassed by a co-worker for a period of 6 months. The human resources department investigated the allegation and found her claims to be true. Although, Oracle never took reasonable steps to stop the harassment after the initial investigation.

Eventually the applicant quit her job with Oracle. The applicant then made a formal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission for contravention of section 28B (2) of the Sexual Discrimination Act. Following which her case was referred to the Federal Court.

Initially the Federal Court was satisfied that there was unlawful discrimination towards the applicant and awarded $18,000 in general damages. In this judgment the employer was also found vicariously liable.

However, the applicant appealed the judgement and on appeal was awarded a total of $130,000 for general damages and economic loss.

The appeal case gave compensable weight to the ‘experience of hurt and humiliation of sexual harassment…and the value of loss of enjoyment of life occasioned by mental illness or distress caused by such conduct.’ For this the Court awarded the appellant $100,000.

The case also found that general damages could be awarded under tort, as was applied in the initial case, but statutory compensation could also be awarded under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 section 46PO(4)(d) which required the respondent to pay damages for any loss or damage suffered because of the conduct of the respondent.

The case also found that compensation could be awarded for economic loss. But for the sexual harassment by her co-worker the appellant would not have left her job at Oracle and sought a new job with a different company.

On appeal, the Court found a direct correlation between the sexual harassment and the applicant leaving Oracle. They compared her earnings at Oracle and her new job and found that over a 3 year period she had in fact lost money. The court awarded her $30,000 in compensation for economic loss.

This case recognised the long term negative effects that sexual harassment in the workplace can have on the victim, and that victims should be compensated adequately.

What do I do if I Believe I’ve been Sexually Harassed?

If you are being sexually assaulted or harassed in the workplace you must report it to your manager or human resources team. You should also keep any documents relating to the assault/harassment.

You should record as much information as possible as it may help you down the track if your case is referred to court.

For instance, if the abuse is verbal it would be I your best interest to write a log of what is being said to you. If possible, record the body language of the person harassing you, if they are touching you, if they are insinuating anything with body language, if anyone is around, what you said, what you did, who you told, and what they did with the information.

It may be tedious and upsetting to record these things but it provides vital evidence that can be used to support your claim if your ever decide to take the matter further.

Being sexually assaulted or harassed at work is very emotionally taxing, for this reason it is important that you talk to people you can trust like your friends and family. However, if you are having trouble coping you should speak to your General Practitioner and make sure the complaint of sexual harassment is recorded in your Doctors notes.

If you do not feel like you can continue to work because of the assault or harassment it is important that you obtain a medical certificate from your GP. It is vital that the medical certificate details why you are having the time off work.

It is important to note that sexual assault and harassment is not normal and not tolerated under Australian law. If you require further information about your rights and entitlements, or bringing a claim you should consult an Accredited Lawyer.

What Should my Employer do?

If you have notified your manager or human resources team of the assault or harassment they should begin investigating your allegations.

Most workplaces should have policies and procedures in place to deal with this. However, if your workplace does not provide these to you it is important to ask them if they have a policy and if they can investigate your complaint.

If your employer fails to act reasonably on your allegations or fails to stop the harassment they may be found liable to pay compensation.

If you require any assistance, please contact us.

Matthew Garling

Matthew Garling is an Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law approved by New South Wales Law Society. He is admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of NSW and the High Court of Australia. Matthew is also a member of...
Yanthi S.
01:51 18 May 22
I engaged with Garling and Co to assist me for my weekly payment dispute with the insurance. I was upset with Natasha, as she didn't prepare me to the worse outcome or kind of negotiation in the... hearing. I assumed that as a Lawyer she should experience with the process or the way to solve the case. Even though I asked her what should I do or what would be happened in the hearing a week before but she didn't mentioned anything, and told me not do anything. But in the hearing she and the Arbitrator only gave me less than 5 minute to make decision and pushed me to accept the disappointed outcome and what she said totally different with what she said earlier. I don't trust her at all, her words is not consistent.I would like to express my appreciation to Matthew Garling who had stepped in to handle my weekly payment issue with the insurance. He is very professional, knowledgeable, easy to talk to and very humble. My disappointment earlier has melted away by his kindness and caring to resolve my issue which has came out the great outcome. Now I am satisfied with his expertise therefore I would not hesitate to let him to handle the case I might have in the future.read more
Lynda S
00:34 04 May 22
For such complicated matters, it is extremely important to have a good team in your corner. The right team.Garling and co is just that and much more.They listen to you and care. They support you... during the entire process. You will have so many questions and they always return your calls and reply to your emails.Thank you so much to Renee, who explained everything to me and what to expect in details and really reassured me. The process felt less heavy and stressful because she was there. She was professional and so efficient. She took over my case from previous lawyer and I wish I could have met her first. She was available to answer the many questions I had along the way. There is also Kelli, she was the first person I got on the phone most of the time when I called and she is nice and very helpful, I had so many questions and doubts, I was stressed yet she had the patience to explain and seek answers to my questions.Natasha took over my case towards the end and she also was great in listening and supporting me and made sure to defend my best interests against the other side at all time.The Worker’s compensation process is very stressful, it can last for a long period. In my case it was three years and it is to the upmost importance to have people who treats you well, are professional and efficient.I am very satisfied with the outcome and I hope that this reviews helps the next person.Your assistance made the difference and I would have not been able to do it without your precious help.read more
Melinda B.
23:57 04 Apr 22
Workers compensation and the medical-legal process is a complicated and a difficult process.If you are looking for a highly professional compensation/personal injury lawyer, I would without... hesitation definitely recommend Matthew Garling who is a genuine, caring & dedicated lawyer.Matthew, Allison Luck and co. are extremely professional, clear and concise with all communication and an exceptional support during the whole process of my claim, I felt confident and secure that I had made the right decision having Matthew represent me, they worked tirelessly and where 100% committed to getting me the best possible outcome.My case was complicated and Matthew never gave up fighting for me, he didn’t just take the first option for a quick and easy resolution.He and his team got me the best possible outcome for my WPI and I will be forever grateful for their hard work and diligence. I now have peace of mind knowing I have lifetime medical assistance and payment till retirement age.read more
Jim M.
12:25 27 Mar 22
Garling and Co lawyers you have done again with Success for my TPD claim! Ms. Emma Perkins and her team have assisted my TPD claim with great success after the hard work, She is a very down-to-earth... person, professional, and highly knowledgeable with insurance claim law. She is very approachable and always willing to help and often reply my question of email after business hours. I will most delighted to recommend Garling and Co Lawyers. Ms. Emma Perkins and her team to any person who needs insurance claim law service like me. by Julieread more
Anthony N
22:13 17 Mar 22
I had Garling & Co Lawyers handle my workplace dispute, I could not be happier with the outcome, handled in such a professional way with excellent communication throughout the entire process.Natasha... and Kelli were very understanding in every aspect, requesting information via phone or email was never an issue, fast response times and helpful in every way. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the team @ Garling & Co Lawyers. 👍read more
Yvonne M.
05:03 21 Jan 22
Zee
14:20 15 Jan 22
I would like to thank the entire team at Garling and Co for being in my corner throughout the worst years I've experienced in my life.I chose Garling and Co in the end after being seriously injured... at work and needing representation, something I should have done years prior.I met with over 12 other legal firms in Sydney. Large,medium, small and all in between. Some were friends, some family, some were sharks, many were pressuring, many promised the world, Matthew was not like that.Matthew was the benchmark as he was one of the first I spoke with and ultimately he stood out in the end as I felt he was the most genuine.From the outset to the conclusion, I found Matthew to be very polite, easy to communicate with and extremely down to earth.He explained everything simply, he had answers for any questions along the way. He told me it how it was, not just what I wanted to hear.Matthew is a genuine nice guy that runs a very efficient and professional law firm. I made the correct choice engaging him in my claims and would not hesitate in recommending him.Renee was also terrific in handling my TPD claim which was literally finalised faster then international postage.Allison, Rebecca and Kelli were all great, always.Thanks again Garling and Co.read more
mark S.
06:30 23 Dec 21
I found from my very first meeting With Matthew that he was upfront honest and to the point . He thoroughly investigated my claim and we agreed too proceed.The staff at Garling and Co are wonderful... and helpful and I was kept informed and upto date from day one till the end .They made me feel confident and secure and I know I had the best team possible for my best outcome .I can’t thank Matthew and the team for their wonderful serviceread more
Daniel F.
08:48 10 Nov 21
My wife suffered psychological injury.Never having similar experience she had to get legal advice.Workers compensation law is complex and she needed someone to help her navigate her way through.... There are many compensation lawyers but not all with enough experience and strong reputation . We have finally decided to go with Matthew and his team based on the independent website reviews .Looking back now we have made the right choice .There is lot of hurdles and having trustworthy lawyer with great communication skills on your side can make huge difference .My wife can now try to move on with the compensation she deserved.Thanks to Matthew ,Allison ,Emma,Rebecca and rest of the team. Thank you again.Daniel and Veerayaread more
K B.
07:35 28 Oct 21
When you work for an employer for a number of decades and suffer a debilitating injury, you expect compassion, support and belief that you are genuine. When you don’t get that and then also have to... deal with Workers Compensation Insurers it slowly breaks you.That's when you need amazing support like Matthew Garling and his team. From my first meeting with Matthew I was confident I was referred to the right guy. I couldn’t be more pleased with my outcome. Matthew is the Guru of workers compensation, he is professional, easy to work with, nothings a bother and most importantly he gets great results. Do not think twice about using Garling and Co Lawyers.Thank you Matthew, Renee, Allison and Kelli for your invaluable support.read more
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Yanthi S.
01:51 18 May 22
I engaged with Garling and Co to assist me for my weekly payment dispute with the insurance. I was upset with Natasha, as she didn't prepare me to the worse outcome or kind of negotiation in the... hearing. I assumed that as a Lawyer she should experience with the process or the way to solve the case. Even though I asked her what should I do or what would be happened in the hearing a week before but she didn't mentioned anything, and told me not do anything. But in the hearing she and the Arbitrator only gave me less than 5 minute to make decision and pushed me to accept the disappointed outcome and what she said totally different with what she said earlier. I don't trust her at all, her words is not consistent.I would like to express my appreciation to Matthew Garling who had stepped in to handle my weekly payment issue with the insurance. He is very professional, knowledgeable, easy to talk to and very humble. My disappointment earlier has melted away by his kindness and caring to resolve my issue which has came out the great outcome. Now I am satisfied with his expertise therefore I would not hesitate to let him to handle the case I might have in the future.read more
Lynda S
00:34 04 May 22
For such complicated matters, it is extremely important to have a good team in your corner. The right team.Garling and co is just that and much more.They listen to you and care. They support you... during the entire process. You will have so many questions and they always return your calls and reply to your emails.Thank you so much to Renee, who explained everything to me and what to expect in details and really reassured me. The process felt less heavy and stressful because she was there. She was professional and so efficient. She took over my case from previous lawyer and I wish I could have met her first. She was available to answer the many questions I had along the way. There is also Kelli, she was the first person I got on the phone most of the time when I called and she is nice and very helpful, I had so many questions and doubts, I was stressed yet she had the patience to explain and seek answers to my questions.Natasha took over my case towards the end and she also was great in listening and supporting me and made sure to defend my best interests against the other side at all time.The Worker’s compensation process is very stressful, it can last for a long period. In my case it was three years and it is to the upmost importance to have people who treats you well, are professional and efficient.I am very satisfied with the outcome and I hope that this reviews helps the next person.Your assistance made the difference and I would have not been able to do it without your precious help.read more
Melinda B.
23:57 04 Apr 22
Workers compensation and the medical-legal process is a complicated and a difficult process.If you are looking for a highly professional compensation/personal injury lawyer, I would without... hesitation definitely recommend Matthew Garling who is a genuine, caring & dedicated lawyer.Matthew, Allison Luck and co. are extremely professional, clear and concise with all communication and an exceptional support during the whole process of my claim, I felt confident and secure that I had made the right decision having Matthew represent me, they worked tirelessly and where 100% committed to getting me the best possible outcome.My case was complicated and Matthew never gave up fighting for me, he didn’t just take the first option for a quick and easy resolution.He and his team got me the best possible outcome for my WPI and I will be forever grateful for their hard work and diligence. I now have peace of mind knowing I have lifetime medical assistance and payment till retirement age.read more
Jim M.
12:25 27 Mar 22
Garling and Co lawyers you have done again with Success for my TPD claim! Ms. Emma Perkins and her team have assisted my TPD claim with great success after the hard work, She is a very down-to-earth... person, professional, and highly knowledgeable with insurance claim law. She is very approachable and always willing to help and often reply my question of email after business hours. I will most delighted to recommend Garling and Co Lawyers. Ms. Emma Perkins and her team to any person who needs insurance claim law service like me. by Julieread more
Anthony N
22:13 17 Mar 22
I had Garling & Co Lawyers handle my workplace dispute, I could not be happier with the outcome, handled in such a professional way with excellent communication throughout the entire process.Natasha... and Kelli were very understanding in every aspect, requesting information via phone or email was never an issue, fast response times and helpful in every way. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the team @ Garling & Co Lawyers. 👍read more
Yvonne M.
05:03 21 Jan 22
Zee
14:20 15 Jan 22
I would like to thank the entire team at Garling and Co for being in my corner throughout the worst years I've experienced in my life.I chose Garling and Co in the end after being seriously injured... at work and needing representation, something I should have done years prior.I met with over 12 other legal firms in Sydney. Large,medium, small and all in between. Some were friends, some family, some were sharks, many were pressuring, many promised the world, Matthew was not like that.Matthew was the benchmark as he was one of the first I spoke with and ultimately he stood out in the end as I felt he was the most genuine.From the outset to the conclusion, I found Matthew to be very polite, easy to communicate with and extremely down to earth.He explained everything simply, he had answers for any questions along the way. He told me it how it was, not just what I wanted to hear.Matthew is a genuine nice guy that runs a very efficient and professional law firm. I made the correct choice engaging him in my claims and would not hesitate in recommending him.Renee was also terrific in handling my TPD claim which was literally finalised faster then international postage.Allison, Rebecca and Kelli were all great, always.Thanks again Garling and Co.read more
mark S.
06:30 23 Dec 21
I found from my very first meeting With Matthew that he was upfront honest and to the point . He thoroughly investigated my claim and we agreed too proceed.The staff at Garling and Co are wonderful... and helpful and I was kept informed and upto date from day one till the end .They made me feel confident and secure and I know I had the best team possible for my best outcome .I can’t thank Matthew and the team for their wonderful serviceread more
Daniel F.
08:48 10 Nov 21
My wife suffered psychological injury.Never having similar experience she had to get legal advice.Workers compensation law is complex and she needed someone to help her navigate her way through.... There are many compensation lawyers but not all with enough experience and strong reputation . We have finally decided to go with Matthew and his team based on the independent website reviews .Looking back now we have made the right choice .There is lot of hurdles and having trustworthy lawyer with great communication skills on your side can make huge difference .My wife can now try to move on with the compensation she deserved.Thanks to Matthew ,Allison ,Emma,Rebecca and rest of the team. Thank you again.Daniel and Veerayaread more
K B.
07:35 28 Oct 21
When you work for an employer for a number of decades and suffer a debilitating injury, you expect compassion, support and belief that you are genuine. When you don’t get that and then also have to... deal with Workers Compensation Insurers it slowly breaks you.That's when you need amazing support like Matthew Garling and his team. From my first meeting with Matthew I was confident I was referred to the right guy. I couldn’t be more pleased with my outcome. Matthew is the Guru of workers compensation, he is professional, easy to work with, nothings a bother and most importantly he gets great results. Do not think twice about using Garling and Co Lawyers.Thank you Matthew, Renee, Allison and Kelli for your invaluable support.read more
University of Technology, Sydney
Member of Law Society of New South Wales
Law Society of NSW Specialist Accreditation
University of Sydney
Legal Profession Admission Board of New South Wales
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