Big changes needed to protect staff from workplace harassment

An estimated one in three workers have experienced sexual harassment at work. With reporting of workplace sexual harassment being alarmingly low at only 18 per cent, this silent epidemic has prompted the Commonwealth government to provide over $5 million in funding to Western Australia for the provision of legal assistance services for those affected.

The Centre for Social Impact at The University of Western Australia has partnered with Circle Green Community Legal to undertake new research to help identify legal need priorities related to workplace sexual harassment and discrimination in Australia. Circle Green is the lead agency delivering the Workplace Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Legal Services Project (referred to as “the Workplace Respect Project”) in Western Australia.

“Governments and organisations often laud conventional approaches to reporting incidents as the ‘cure-all’ for workplace sexual harassment, despite global empirical evidence proving its ineffectiveness. We found conventional reporting poses great risks for the victim, jeopardising their social position, employment, and mental, physical and financial health. They also face many structural and legal barriers if they choose to report,” said Research Lead, Dr Leanne Lester.

In its new report, Understanding workplace sexual harassment: Trends, barriers to legal assistance, consequences, and legal need , the Centre for Social Impact UWA builds on existing literature on workplace sexual harassment, as well as interviews conducted with community legal centres and other stakeholder organisations, and people with lived experience of workplace sexual harassment, to identify and understand its prevalence, nature, and occurrence in WA.

“The Centre for Social Impact UWA has worked to build a solid evidence base for identifying legal need and offers useful insights for legal assistance services and other organisations to be more responsive to people who have been targeted by workplace sexual harassment.” said Circle Green Project Manager, Heidi Guldbaek.

The new report includes findings across a broad range of topics, including WA workplace sexual harassment legislation, reporting workplace sexual harassment, employer responses to workplace sexual harassment, and barriers to seeking legal assistance.

The report identifies 10 recommendations for workplaces and employees and a further 10 suggestions for organisations providing legal assistance.

“The report recommendations are centred around prevention and positive organisational cultural change, promoting a workplace structure based on acceptance and equality and reducing workforce and legal assistance barriers for those experiencing WSH,” said Ms Guldbaek.


Simone Hewett (UWA PR & Media Manager) 6488 3229