Harassment may be an ongoing pattern of behaviour, or it may be just a single act.
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 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.
Anyone can be harassed, including women or men, and people of any age or race.
Harassment is illegal
In NSW, it is against the law to harass you because of your:
- race (including colour, nationality, descent, ethnic or ethno-religious background)
- 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).
It is also against the law for you to be harassed because of any of these aspects 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.
You decide what is harassment
It's important to understand that if you find a particular behaviour offensive, humiliating or intimidating, and it relates to your sex, race, age or any of the listed elements, then it is harassment.
It doesn’t matter 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.
What behaviour might be harassment?
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 on social networking
- 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.
Harassment in the workplace
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, 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 that is OK – as long as it doesn't interfere with your work or any standards of workplace behaviour that your employer has set.
Remember, if you don't mind the behaviour then it's not harassment.
Where to find support
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone in your workplace, or if discussions break down, there are people and organisations who can support and advise you.
We have prepared a list of agencies and organisations that may be able to help.
If you are having a tough time and need someone to talk to right now, the following services are there to listen and help you out. They are confidential and available 24/7. They are:
- Lifeline– 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue - 1300 224 636
- Men’s Line Australia – 1300 78 99 78
- Kids Help Line– counseling and support provided for young people (5yrs to 25yrs) who are feeling depressed, sad, or lonely – or just need someone to talk to – 1800 55 1800
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467.
If you are in immediate danger:
- call 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department
If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s mental health you can call NSW Mental Health on 1800 011 511.
The Mental Health Line (1800 011 511) is a single number, state-wide 24-hour mental health telephone access service. Anyone with a mental health issue can use the Mental Health Line to speak with a mental health professional and be directed to the right care for them.
Carers, other health professionals, and emergency service workers can also use the Mental Health Line for advice about a person’s clinical symptoms, the urgency of the need for care, and local treatment options.
We have also prepared information on who to contact if you need further specific assistance.