Preventing sexual harassment in work: exploring the promise of work health and safety laws

Belinda Smith, Melanie Schleiger, Liam Elphick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Despite a growing consensus that sexual harassment is wrong, it continues to be remarkably prevalent in Australian workplaces. Sex discrimination laws which were expressly designed to prohibit this behaviour have operated for several decades, yet the problem still persists. Anti-discrimination laws (ADL) have been effective to a point, but are limited by their individual and complaints-based regulatory framework. The question therefore arises: might other laws play a role in addressing this problem more effectively? In this article we explore the promise of work health and safety (WHS) laws in addressing sexual harassment in work. WHS laws impose obligations to prevent harm to workplace participants, including psychological harm. Our thesis is that this harm-prevention approach can complement the existing ADL individual redress scheme and prove an effective tool at preventing sexual harassment by tackling its antecedents in workplace cultures. However, the promise of WHS laws in preventing sexual harassment can only be realised if WHS agencies acknowledge this remit and are equipped to deal with it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-249
Number of pages31
JournalAustralian Journal of Labour Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

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