• Harassment and sexual harassment factsheet PDF 80KB

What does the law say about harassment?

In NSW, it is against the law to harass you because of your:

  • sex
  • pregnancy
  • breastfeeding
  • race (including colour, nationality, descent, ethnic or ethno-religious background)
  • age
  • marital or domestic status
  • homosexuality (actual or perceived)
  • disability (actual or perceived, past, present or future
  • transgender status (actual or perceived)
  • carer's responsibilities (actual or presumed).

Anti-discrimination law defines harassment as any form of behaviour that:

  • you do not want
  • offends, humiliates or intimidates you
  • creates a hostile environment.

It is also against the law for you to be harassed because of the sex, pregnancy etc of any of your relatives, friends, work colleagues or associates. For example, you could be harassed because your husband comes from another country, or because you have a friend who is homosexual.

In general, harassment is only against the law if it is done by someone aged 16 or over.

When does this law apply?

The law against harassment and generally applies in five main areas of public life. The exception is harassment because of carer's responsibilities, which is only against the law in employment.

The areas in which the law applies are as follows:

  • in employment - when you apply for a job or for a licence or registration to perform a job, when you are at work, or when you leave a job
  • when you get, or try to get, most types of goods or services - for example, from shops, banks, lawyers, government departments, police, public transport, local councils, doctors, hospitals and other medical services, hotels, sporting venues and entertainment venues
  • when you apply to get into or are studying in any State educational institution, which includes any government school, college or university. Sexual harassment and harassment because of your race are also against the law in private educational institutions
  • when you rent accommodation such as houses, units, flats, hotel or motel rooms and commercial premises
  • when you try to enter or join a registered club, or when you're inside one. A registered club is any club that sells alcohol or has gambling machines.

If you are harassed somewhere else (for example, in your home or on the street), you may be able to get assistance from a local chamber magistrate or the police.

What types of behaviour could be harassment?

It's important to understand that if a person finds a particular behaviour offensive, humiliating or intimidating, and it relates to their sex, race, age etc as described above, then it is harassment. This is irrespective of how the harasser or anyone else perceives the behaviour. People may have different ideas about what is offensive, and within reason, it is up to them to define what they find unacceptable.

Anyone can be harassed, including women or men, and people of any age or race. Harassment may be an ongoing pattern of behaviour, or it may be just a single act. It may be perpetrated by a person in a position of power over the victim, for example their supervisor at work, or it may occur where there is no power relationship, for example among work colleagues.

Depending on the circumstances, any of the following could be harassment if it relates to a person's sex, race, age etc:

  • material that is displayed in the workplace (for example on a noticeboard), circulated on paper, sent by fax or put in someone's workspace or belongings

  • material put on a computer, sent by email, or put on a website, blog or social networking site

  • verbal abuse or comments

  • offensive jokes

  • offensive gestures

  • ignoring, isolating or segregating a person or group - for example not inviting someone to a work event that everyone else is invited to

  • initiation ceremonies that involve unwelcome behaviour.

What are my rights at work?

Most harassment that is against the anti-discrimination laws happens at work.

Your employer must not harass you at work, and they must also take 'all reasonable steps' to make sure that there is no harassment in their workplace. Your employer must do their best to make sure that you are not harassed by your supervisor, your workmates or your customers or clients. They must do this whether you are full-time or part-time, permanent or casual.

In this context, all reasonable steps may include:

  • having a clearly defined policy that harassment is not acceptable, and procedures for addressing harassment when it occurs

  • making sure all employees know about this policy, what constitutes harassment and the procedures for addressing it

  • ensuring that the policy and procedures are followed.

Of course, if you are happy with a particular type of behaviour or you want to have a relationship with someone you work with, that is OK - as long as it doesn't interfere with your work or any standards of workplace behaviour that your employer has set. If you don't mind the behaviour then it's not harassment.