Sexual Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination  

The Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW (WLANSW) aims to educate its members about their rights in the workplace and press for reform where it is needed with a view to ensuring the equal participation of women in the legal profession.

Of particular interest to the WLANSW are the issues of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the workplace.

What is sexual harassment?

Under section 28A of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), sexual harassment is:

  • any unwelcome sexual advance;
  • unwelcome request for sexual favours; or
  • other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed,

in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

What is bullying?

Under section 789FD of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), bullying is when an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behave(s) unreasonably towards a worker that creates a risk to health and safety.

What is discrimination?

Under section 351 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), discrimination occurs when an employer takes adverse action against a person who is an employee or prospective employee because of their race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

Conduct amounting to sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination

For Australian legal practitioners, conduct amounting to sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination is contrary to various professional conduct rules and is likely in breach of workplace policies.

Sexual harassment and bullying may also amount to criminal conduct under the various criminal codes.

The prevalence of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the legal profession

In 2018, the IBA and Acritas conducted the largest-ever global survey on bullying and sexual harassment in the profession.  The results provide empirical confirmation that bullying and sexual harassment are rife in the legal profession.

Approximately one in two female respondents and one in three male respondents had been bullied in connection with their employment.  One in three female respondents had been sexually harassed in a workplace context, as had one in 14 male respondents.

What can I do if I have been sexually harassed, bullied or discriminated against?

If you have been sexually harassed, bullied or discriminated against there are steps you can take to address it ranging from calling it out, to reporting it to your employer or a federal body such as the AHRC.

It may also be available to you to commence legal proceedings in a tribunal or court.

For more information about what you can do if you have been discriminated against in the context of pregnancy, taking leave or returning to work, see our guide here.