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This article was written by Kathryn Sampias

Kathryn Sampias has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Kathryn was admitted to practice in 2005 and practised law for more than eight years, working both in private practice (mainly in defence litigation for professional indemnity disputes) and in the public service for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in enforcement.

Compensation for Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Work (Qld)

Both state and federal law make sexual harassment in the workplace illegal. However, sexual harassment and even sexual assault continue to occur in the context of employment. A person who experiences sexual harassment or sexual assault at work has a number of options for seeking compensation in Queensland.

What is sexual harassment?

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) provide definitions of sexual harassment. According to these definitions, sexual harassment can include:

  • Comments or jests made that are sexually suggestive;
  • Probes into one’s private life;
  • Questions or comments about one’s physical appearance;
  • Unwelcome staring or ogling;
  • Unwanted physical contact, e.g. hugging or kissing; and
  • Communication that is sexually explicit, e.g. text messages, images, emails or phone calls.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 covers sexual harassment at work that occurs in the following work-related contexts (in addition to sexual harassment that takes place on work premises):

  • On trips for work;
  • At parties and social events related to work;
  • At training programs or facilities for work;
  • In schools or educational institutions or at any activities related to these; and
  • At any premises where goods and services are sold.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment that is also a criminal offence. A person commits a sexual assault on another person when they:

  • Inappropriately touch the other person without their consent, e.g. groping;
  • Force the other person to engage in a sexual act against their will, e.g. forcing the other person to touch their genitals; or
  • Force the other person to watch a sexual act against their will, e.g. forcing the other person to watch them masturbate.

In Queensland, the maximum criminal penalty for sexual assault is ten years in prison. If there are aggravating circumstances, such as if a weapon is used, the maximum penalty extends to fourteen years.

Consequences for victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault at work

Victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace can experience a range of impacts due to the conduct. These can include:

  • Mental and physical health issues;
  • Interruptions to careers; and
  • Reduced earning capacities.

For these reasons, the law allows victims to claim compensation for sexual assault at work and compensation for sexual harassment at work.

How to seek compensation for sexual assault or sexual harassment at work

In Queensland, there are a few avenues for seeking compensation for sexual assault or sexual harassment at work. A claim for sexual assault or sexual harassment at work may proceed through the court system (either state or federal depending on what legislation the claim is brought under). A claim could also be heard by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission or the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. These bodies have the power to make orders against perpetrators of sexual assault or sexual harassment such as requiring a person to pay compensation to the victim or apologise.

Before proceeding to have an order seeking compensation heard through one of these bodies, a victim may wish to attend an alternative dispute resolution process, such as conciliation, to see if the dispute can be resolved through that method. Complaints about sexual harassment or sexual assault can also be made to the federal body for the protection of human rights, the Australian Human Rights Commission, as this body also has powers for resolving such complaints and ordering that compensation be paid to victims in appropriate circumstances.

In addition to applying for compensation for sexual assault at work or compensation for sexual harassment at work, a victim may also report the conduct to the police so that appropriate criminal charges can be laid.

Some recent cases

Victims have recently obtained larger sums of compensation for sexual assault at work and compensation for sexual harassment at work than had previously been the case. It appears that this may be reflective of society’s attitude to such behaviour and increasing awareness of its severe consequences for victims.

Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 82

This was a decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia. The court made an order that Ms Richardson be paid $130,000 in damages for the injury she suffered due to sexual harassment by her colleague (compensation for sexual harassment at work). The sexual harassment had included several sexually explicit and humiliating comments and sexual advances.

Ms Richardson’s physical condition had suffered as a result, as had the sexual intimacy enjoyed by her and her husband. Ms Richardson’s way of carrying herself had also been changed by the harassment. The amount of damages awarded included a sum for general damages as well as damages for the economic loss she had suffered as a result of the harassment.

STU v JKL (Qld) Pty Ltd and Ors [2017] QCAT 505

In this case, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal awarded $313,0000 in damages to a complainant who was unnamed. The damages were for compensation for sexual assault at work and compensation for sexual harassment at work.

The damages consisted of general damages and damages for past and further loss of earnings. As a result of the sexual harassment and sexual assault, the victim had, among other things, developed a substance abuse problem with alcohol, insomnia, anxiety, and lost her ability to drive.

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