Workplace Sexual Harassment

Table of contents

It’s never part of the job!

Sexual harassment is a known cause of physical and psychological harm in the workplace. Therefore, managing the risks of workplace sexual harassment must be a part of your approach to ensuring the health and safety of your crew and workers.

This includes managing the risk of your crew and workers being sexually harassed, while at work, by vessel Masters, managers, supervisors, contractors, other workers, customers, clients and other persons.

What is workplace sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where the possibility of that reaction could be reasonably anticipated in the circumstances.

At the national level, sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). Sexual harassment is also prohibited by state and territory anti-discrimination laws. Sexual harassment can take various forms.

It can include unwelcome hugging, kissing or other types of inappropriate physical contact, staring or leering, intrusive questions about a person’s private life or physical appearance, repeated unwanted invitations to go out on dates, requests for sex, or sexually explicit emails, calls, text messages or online interactions.

Such behaviour does not have to be directed at a specific person. Sexual harassment includes behaviour that makes the working environment uncomfortable or threatening in a sexually hostile way, such as displaying sexually offensive pictures or a culture of suggestive comments or jokes.

Sexual harassment can happen during working hours and at work-related activities such as training courses, conferences, trips, and work-related social activities. It might come from workers, a supervisor or manager, or from customers or clients.

Impacts of workplace sexual harassment

The consequences and cost of not addressing workplace sexual harassment may be high for the harassed individual in terms of physical and psychological harm and for the employer in terms of lost productivity, reputational damage, and significant financial loss.

Workplace sexual harassment can also have an adverse impact on workers witnessing the unacceptable behaviour. Workplace sexual harassment varies in severity and its effect on workers.

Different individuals can perceive and react to this sort of behaviour in different ways, which can make workplace sexual harassment a complex area for employers to manage. Overt forms of workplace sexual harassment are generally easier to identify and act upon, however there are many examples that are more subtle, such as sexist remarks, crude language, jokes, ‘horseplay’ and an overall workplace culture that is degrading.

The impacts of workplace sexual harassment depend largely on individual circumstances and settings, however there are often significant economic and social costs for crew members, workers, their families, their employers, and the wider community.

Impacts on health and safety

For the person who experiences workplace sexual harassment and anyone who witnesses the behaviour, physical and psychological impacts can include:

  • feelings of isolation, social isolation, or family dislocation
  • loss of confidence and withdrawal
  • physical injuries because of assault
  • depression, anxiety, and stress
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • illness such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, immune deficiency, and gastrointestinal disorders (for example, as a result of stress)
  • self-harm or suicide.

Managing the risk of sexual harassment in your workplace

As an employer you have a duty under the WHS Act to eliminate risks to health and safety of workers and other persons so far as is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks, they must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This means the employer must do what is reasonably practicable to manage the risk of workplace sexual harassment

Shorlink’s Recommendation

If you believe you have been sexually harassed by another crew member or worker report the matter to the Master of the vessel or your manager. Where the Master or manager is involved report it senior management or in the event of Shorlink clients where we are listed as the Safety and Wellbeing Advisor contact Wayne Linklater direct on 0423 313 790

If you, anyone onboard or in the workplace is in immediate danger, call 000 and report the matter to Police.


Our best tip is to ensure you have the appropriate policies in place and all crew and workers have read and understand them. At a minimum you should have these policies in place:

  • Sexual Harassment
  • Anti-discrimination
  • Workplace bullying
  • Privacy
  • Mental health and wellbeing

If you don’t have these policies in place and need help implementing them, contact our office for assistance.

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