Advice

Dealing with harassment

How to manage sexual and racial harassment complaints in the workplace.

Sexual and racial harassment complaints in the workplace can have a serious and ongoing negative effect for all involved. It is essential that they are dealt with swiftly and resolved completely.

As an employer, you can create an environment in the workplace where this type of behaviour is not tolerated. This can be done by making it clear what behaviour is and isn’t appropriate, enforcing this consistently (even in more relaxed environments like Christmas parties or other work related social events), and making it as easy as possible for victims to come forward if they feel that they have been harassed.

If serious allegations have been made it may be appropriate to bring in specialist sexual violence advisors or counsellors to help the employer and employee through this difficult area. If the behaviour constitutes a sexual offence or includes violence it could be a criminal offence and the affected employee should be encouraged to report it to the Police.

In a retail environment it is possible that our employees could be subject to sexual or racial harassment by customers or clients of the employer. If this happens than the employee should complain to you in writing. You need to investigate and, if you determine that the behaviour happened, you must take whatever steps are practicable to stop if happening again. It is important that confidentiality is maintained by all the parties involved in this process.

If an employee has been harassed in your workplace they may choose to resolve it by using an informal process such as approaching the perpetrator. If they are not satisfied with the responses, or do not want to do this, these forms of harassment are covered by both the Employment Relations Act and the Human Rights Act. The victim can either lodge a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act or lodge a complaint using the Human Rights Act. They have a choice as to which way they want to go to take the matter further, but they cannot do both.


Sexual harassment can happen to, or be perpetrated by, someone of any sex. It can be subtle or more obvious. Some examples of sexual harassment include:

  • personally sexually offensive comments;
  • sexual or smutty jokes;
  • unwanted comments or teasing about a person’s sexual activities or private life;
  • offensive hand or body gestures;
  • physical contact such as patting, pinching or touching;
  • provocative posters with a sexual connotation; and/ or
  • persistent and unwelcome social invitations (or telephone calls or emails) from workmates at work or at home.

Someone is racially harassed either directly or indirectly if someone expresses hostility against, or brings the employee into contempt or ridicule, because of their race, colour, or ethnic or national origins. Some examples could include:

  • making offensive remarks about a person’s race;
  • copying or making fun of the way a person speaks;
  • making jokes about a person’s race;
  • calling people by racist names; and/ or
  • deliberately mispronouncing or mocking people’s names.

If you have any concerns or questions about this issue please contact us on 0800 472 472 (1800 128 086 from Australia) or [email protected].


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