The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has announced it is conducting a 12-month national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

The national inquiry is reportedly a 'world first'. It is timely given the #MeToo movement and other similar campaigns, and also given that workplace sexual harassment rates continue to increase.


The national inquiry will review and report on factors including:

  • a national survey of the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, by sector
  • the use of technology and social media to perpetrate workplace-related sexual and sex-based harassment
  • the drivers of workplace sexual harassment, including whether individuals are likely to experience sexual harassment due to particular characteristics and whether workplace characteristics and practices are more likely to increase the risk of sexual harassment
  • the current legal framework with respect to sexual harassment
  • existing measures and good practice being undertaken by employers in preventing and responding to workplace sexual harassment
  • the impact of sexual harassment on individuals and business (both economic and non-economic)
  • recommendations to address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

The inquiry will involve holding public consultations in major cities and regional centres and the opportunity for the general public to lodge submissions.

Three years after the release of the inquiry report, the AHRC will assess any subsequent changes in the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and make any further recommendations necessary to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

More to be done in Australian workplaces

While many employers are aware of their obligations to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and take steps towards compliance, there is more to be done. Preliminary findings from the AHRC's fourth national survey into the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment indicate rates were higher than the previous survey conducted in 2012. These findings, together with the national inquiry, send a clear message to employers about the importance of ensuring that strategies for minimising risk are implemented and assessed on an ongoing basis (see our recommendations here).

We will be following the national inquiry closely and will provide further reports once more details are available, particularly with respect to the sectors to be assessed and how workplaces will be engaged in the process. Should you be interested in making submissions to the AHRC for consideration in their national inquiry, please don't hesitate to let us know as we would be happy to assist.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.