WHS duties

Duties under the model WHS laws 

If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a positive duty under the model WHS laws to eliminate the risk of sexual harassment to workers and other persons. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks, they must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.

You must take a proactive approach to preventing sexual harassment and do all that you reasonably can to manage the risk of it from occurring at the workplace. 

When controlling the risk of sexual harassment, you must consider: 

  • the likely duration, frequency and severity of the exposure of workers and other persons to sexual harassment
  • how the risk of sexual harassment may interact or combine with other psychosocial hazards 
  • the design of work, including job demands and tasks
  • the systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported
  • the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of the workplace, including the provision of safe means of entering and exiting the workplace, and facilities for the welfare of workers
  • the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of workers’ accommodation
  • the plant, substances and structures at the workplace
  • workplace interactions or behaviours, and
  • the information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers.

PCBUs must also, so far as reasonably practicable, consult with workers who carry out work for the business or undertaking and who are (or are likely to be) affected by sexual harassment. This includes employees, contractors, volunteers and anyone else who carries out work for the business or undertaking. You must also consult with health and safety representatives (HSRs) if you have them. 

For information on how PCBU's can meet their duties see the model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.

An information sheet for small businesses has simple guidance to help small business owners prevent workplace sexual harassment and meet their WHS duties. 

The Guide on preventing workplace sexual harassment has more information on your WHS duties and managing risks of sexual harassment at work. 

Workers’ WHS duties  

Workers including employees, contractors, subcontractors, labour hire employees, outworkers, apprentices or volunteers have a duty to:  

  • take reasonable care to not adversely affect others’ health and safety 
  • comply with reasonable instructions 
  • take reasonable care for their own health and safety while at work  
  • co-operate with reasonable policies and procedures, for example a workplace bullying policy. 

Reporting to police 

When dealing with a report of sexual harassment, it is very important to respect the persons’ desired outcome and preferred way of managing the complaint. Some acts – such as indecent exposure, stalking, sexual assault and obscene or threatening communication (phone calls, emails, text messages and posts on social media) – may be criminal offences. Reports of these acts may be referred to the police

Information for workers on what to do if they experience or witness sexual harassment at the workplace is provided in the information sheet - Workplace sexual harassment – advice for workers.