Make a report outside your workplace

Information about how to make a report or complaint about workplace sexual harassment to an external agency.

How do I make a formal report or claim with an external agency?

There are a range of options that may be available to a worker who has been targeted by workplace sexual harassment.

The reporting option you choose will depend on your specific situation – for example, where you work, the date the harassment occurred, whether you’re an employee in the state or national system, and what outcome you are hoping for.

The process of making a report to an external body (outside of your workplace) can be overwhelming.  There are several reporting pathways; some of them are mutually exclusive and mean you can’t apply for another pathway if you’ve already taken a particular pathway, while other pathways are able to be taken concurrently. We recommend seeking legal advice.

There are services available that assist you to understand more about your options, so that you can make a decision based on the outcome you’re seeking. To find out more, visit our page on getting legal advice, or read more below.

Depending on which pathway you choose, there may only be a short time limit from the date the harassment occurred to make a complaint.

Learn more about legal claims and other pathways

Where a crime has occurred

Sometimes sexual harassment can also be sexual assault, which is a criminal conduct. For example, if the perpetrator touches you, this may be sexual harassment and sexual assault.

If you are sexually assaulted, you may choose to:

Report the sexual harassment to police if it involves criminal conduct
• Attend your local police station
• Ring Police Assistance Line on 131 444 (available 24/7) to report a crime over the phone and the information provided will be immediately available to your local police.
• Report online (anonymously if you wish) through the Safe2Say portal.

Make a criminal injuries compensation claim if a crime was committed                                                                                                                   If you’ve suffered bodily harm, mental or nervous shock, or pregnancy resulting from an offence, then you may be entitled to criminal injuries compensation (CIC). CIC can cover compensation for things like:
• pain and suffering;
• loss of enjoyment of life;
• loss of income;
• medical and / or psychological expenses; and
• some other expenses.

Circle Green does not advise on criminal injuries compensation. For more information, you should check out:
• Legal Aid’s Find Legal Answers guide on criminal injuries compensation
• Women’s Legal Services WA’s guide on applying for criminal injuries compensation
Office of Criminal Injuries Compensation

Making a systemic advocacy report

These types of reporting options are not legal claims and will not result in a personal remedy or compensation. They are options that are available regardless of whether you make a legal claim. You can also report to both agencies independently.

When you report to these agencies, it doesn’t guarantee they will investigate your specific matter, but your report does provide the agencies with data that they can use to see systemic patterns to understand which organisations or businesses should be investigated. For example, if the agency notices several workplace sexual harassment reports stemming from a specific company, it could trigger an investigation.

Reporting to the below agencies is a form of advocacy which contributes to the improvement of the overall “system” of safe and respectful workplaces.

Make a report to WorkSafe

Workplace sexual harassment is a work healthy and safety issue. If you have been sexually harassed at work, you might consider making a report to WorkSafe. WorkSafe has the power to investigate employers, and ask them to improve their systems. Work Safe doesn’t necessarily investigate every report, but making a report helps them to recognise patterns of conduct.

To make a sexual harassment report to WorkSafe, you can:

You can report workplace sexual harassment anonymously (without saying who you are) by contacting WorkSafe.

For more information:

Report a breach of your employer’s obligation to prevent sexual harassment

Your employer has an obligation to take all reasonable steps to prevent workplace sexual harassment and other unlawful behaviour under the Sex Discrimination Act.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has powers to investigate and enforce an employer’s positive duty to eliminate sexual harassment and other unlawful behaviours.

The  AHRC does not have capacity to investigate every report, but reporting a breach will help the Commission better understand repeat patterns and help them to make informed decisions about potential investigations.

To report a breach, you can:

  • Complete the Positive Duty online form
  • Call the AHRC on 1300 656 419 for assistance to complete the Positive Duty online form

For more information about what behaviour is covered by the positive duty see the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Information Guide.

Applying for stop sexual harassment orders

If you are still in your job, to prevent future instances of sexual harassment, you may wish to:

Apply to the WA Industrial Relations Commission for stop sexual harassment orders

If you are a state system employee who has been sexually harassed at work, you may be able to apply to the WA Industrial Relations Commission (WAIRC) for an order to stop the sexual harassment.

The WAIRC can only make an order if there is a risk that you will continue to be sexually harassed at work. So, if you are no longer employed at the workplace where the sexual harassment took place, or if there is no risk that the sexual harassment will continue, the WAIRC cannot make anti-sexual harassment orders. The WAIRC cannot make an order for compensation (i.e. money) or reinstatement (i.e. getting your job back).

For more information:

Apply to the Fair Work Commission for stop sexual harassment orders

If the sexual harassment occurred before 6 March 2023, you may be eligible to apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the sexual harassment.

The FWC can only make an order if there is a risk that you will continue to be sexually harassed at work. So, if you are no longer employed at the workplace where the sexual harassment took place, or if there is no risk that the sexual harassment will continue, the FWC cannot make anti-sexual harassment orders. The FWC cannot make an order that you be paid money. It also cannot order reinstatement (ie getting your job back). The FWC’s focus is on sorting out the issues and allowing you to return to work as normal.

If the harassment occurred on or after 6 March 2023, you can apply to FWC to deal with the matter either by making orders to stop the sexual harassment as above,and/ or deal with the matter in another way (see below option on making a complaint to the FWC). 

For more information:

 

Making a sexual harassment complaint

You can make a complaint through the Equal Opportunity Commission, the Australian Human Rights Commission, or the Fair Work Commission. The eligibility criteria, process and timeframes are different for each Commission, but generally speaking the process usually involves negotiating with the other party (through conciliation) to try to reach a resolution. During the negotiations, you have the option to request actions such as an apology, reinstatement, policy changes, or compensation to be part of the settlement. If the dispute is unable to be resolved, the next step might be going to arbitration, or applying to have the matter heard at a court or tribunal.  

Make a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission (WA)

You can make a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) in writing, online, or over the telephone.

You generally have one year from the date of the sexual harassment to make a complaint to the EOC.

The Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) can help you work things out with your employer and might arrange a meeting called conciliation to make this happen.

During conciliation, you can talk about what you want with your employer. If you both agree on something, a formal agreement can be made. You can ask for different things, like compensation, but remember there’s a maximum amount (up to $40,000) set by the State Administrative Tribunal if the EOC can’t solve the problem. The EOC itself can’t award you compensation.

Other things you can request include an apology from your employer or others involved, a reference from your employer, or agreements that say nobody can speak badly about you, and more.

If you have been subject to sexual harassment, you may have also been discriminated against. For more information on discrimination complaints, see our Q&A: Workplace discrimination for WA workers.

For more information:

Make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission

You can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in writing, online, or over the telephone.

You generally have two years from the date of the sexual harassment to make a complaint to the AHRC if the harassment occurred on or after 11 September 2021.

The  AHRC investigates and attempts to resolve complaints that are made to the AHRC. The AHRC can assist you to come to a resolution with your employer and may schedule a conciliation to help facilitate this resolution. The conciliation process helps both parties come to a settlement through negotiation. You can ask for compensation, noting there is no cap for compensation for an AHRC claim.

In addition to handling sexual harassment complaints, the AHRC handles complaints for harassment on the ground of sex. This is where someone is harassed because of their sex, but the harassment does not include conduct of a sexual nature. For example, if someone verbally abuses you in the workplace because of your sex, you may be able to make this complaint.

The AHRC also deals with complaints about conduct that creates a hostile work environment on the ground of sex. These are everyday sexist acts that contribute to a culture where people feel degraded or humiliated.

For more information:

Make a complaint to the Fair Work Commission

If the harassment occurred on or after 6 March 2023, you can make a complaint to the Fair Work Commission (FWC). You can also ask them to make sexual harassment orders at the same time if relevant.

This application should be made within 2 years of the harassment occurring.

The FWC will generally hold a meeting to talk about the issue, and try to find a way forward. After the meeting, the FWC may offer an opinion about the issue or make a recommendation. If you can’t find a way forward, the FWC will send you a certificate stating that all reasonable steps have been taken to resolve the dispute and have been unsuccessful.

There may then be an arbitration if the parties agree. In arbitration, the FWC can sometimes make orders for compensation, as well as other orders. If there is no agreement to arbitrate, you can make a claim to the Federal Circuit and Family Court or the Federal Court. The courts can make orders for compensation (i.e. money), as well as penalties (i.e. fines).

More inforamtion:

Making a claim if you are mistreated or dismissed as a result of complaining about sexual harassment

There are a number of legal protections available if your employer punishes you for making a complaint.  

You may be able to either:

  • make a separate claim for this treatment; or
  • add this treatment into a sexual harassment claim or complaint.

Punishment may include:

  • firing you;
  • forcing you to quit;
  • treating you differently; and
  • otherwise treating you badly.

If you have been targeted by sexual harassment, you may have also been discriminated against.

Note that limitation periods for dismissal based claims can be as short as 21 days.

More information:

Lodging a workers’ compensation claim if the workplace sexual harassment has caused injury or illness

If you suffer from an injury or illness at work, you may want to consider making an application for workers’ compensation. Anxiety or stress because of workplace sexual harassment may be considered an illness or injury for the purposes of workers’ compensation claims. Workers’ compensation can cover things like lost earnings and medical expenses so that you can remain in work or return to work.

Circle Green does not advise on workers’ compensation.

More information:

How do I know if I’m in the state system or national system?

There are two systems of employment law in Western Australia: a state system and a national system. We have resources available for both state system employees and national system employees, and it’s helpful to know which system of employment law you are covered by. If you aren’t sure, you can read our Q&A: State or national system employees.

What else should I consider?

If you’ve been targeted by workplace sexual harassment, it may also be helpful for you to consider some of these options:

Practice self-care and seek support
Seek legal advice
Make a report to your employer

Knowing your options is important, but it’s even more important to know that what you decide to do next is up to you.