Preventing work-related gendered violence


Preventing work-related gendered violence involves:

  • identifying the hazards and assessing the risks
  • implementing measures to eliminate or control the risks
  • reviewing the effectiveness of control measures to ensure they are working, and improving them where needed

Identifying hazards and assessing risks

To identify the potential for gendered violence, you need to gather information on and understand what hazards exist in your workplace, and assess the associated risk.

When gathering information, consult with employees, HSRs and health and safety committees if you have them, and with customers and clients. Ways to gather information to identify areas of concern include:

  • staff satisfaction surveys
  • staff exit interviews and surveys
  • monitoring information like hazard and incident reports, and WorkCover claims
  • reviewing patterns of absenteeism and sick leave

Don't rely only on formal reports of gendered violence incidents. A lack of reports doesn't mean that incidents are not happening. It may simply mean that people are not reporting incidents because they don't know how or feel safe and supported to do so. You can also look out for more subtle signs and symptoms of problems. For example, is an employee performing differently, suddenly taking more sick leave, isolating themselves, or not attending work functions? Is there an awkwardness or lack of communication between employees?

Assessing risk

To determine the likelihood that someone will be harmed by work-related gendered violence, ask:

  • How often are particular tasks done? Does this make harm more or less likely to occur?
  • Has gendered violence happened before, either in this workplace or somewhere else? If it has happened, how often does it happen?
  • What are the potential consequences? Will it cause mental or physical injury, or death?


Employers must consult with employees and HSRs about health and safety matters that could directly affect them. Drawing on the experience, knowledge and ideas of employees is more likely to result in the identification of all hazards and the selection and implementation of effective risk control measures.

Consultation needs to involve:

  • sharing information about anything that could affect workplace health and safety – information should be timely and in a form that can be understood by all employees, including in other languages where appropriate
  • giving all employees a reasonable opportunity to express their views
  • consideration of employee views

Checklist - scan your workplace culture

Assess your workplace against the statements below. Are they all true for your workplace? Any that aren't may indicate risk factors to be addressed.

  • The workplace is gender equitable (for example women and men are fairly evenly distributed across jobs and levels in your organisation; there is an even turnover of female staff compared to male staff).
  • Social activities are inclusive.
  • Banter and inappropriate comments are uncommon when staff gather, and if it occurs, people speak up.
  • Everyone is encouraged and confident to actively participate in meetings and forums.
  • There are no offensive materials or posters in the workplace.
  • There are no requirements about employee appearance that might make people feel disrespected and vulnerable (such as uniforms or expectations about wearing makeup).
  • There are no areas in your workplace that are isolated or intimidating to enter.
  • People who have recently started in the workplace are appropriately supported.
  • All employees have access to appropriate facilities, equipment and uniform based on their needs.
  • There is a clear process for an employee to report unwanted behaviour, whether from a manager or a co-worker, confidentially and without fear of reprisals. Reports are processed and appropriate action is taken.
  • Perpetrators are responded to appropriately.
  • Employees are not penalised for reporting inappropriate behaviours – for example by being moved to a different team or restricted in their role and responsibilities.

Eliminating or controlling the risks

Duty holders must eliminate the risk of gendered violence, so far as is reasonably practicable, by removing the hazards associated with those risks.

A very effective way to eliminate the risk of gendered violence is to establish and maintain safe and inclusive workplace cultures and systems, where disrespect and incivility isn’t tolerated. It may also be possible to adjust work systems and the environment to entirely eliminate exposure to some gendered violence risks (such as contacting clients by phone rather than in person, where possible, to eliminate the risk of physical violence).

If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, then the risk needs to be minimised by implementing a range of control measures. You may need to implement certain measures across the whole organisation, as well as in specific work areas.

Respectful and inclusive workplace cultures

Workplace culture can include things like leadership, values, behaviours, language, attitudes and interactions.

Workplaces that tolerate or reward exclusion and disrespectful behaviours are more likely to fail to meet the requirements of the OHS Act to provide a workplace that is safe and free from risks to health.

Achieving gender equality in the workplace takes:

  • commitment of leaders and staff to equality and respect
  • workplace conditions (policies and procedures) that support equality and respect
  • a culture free from sexist and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours
  • a workplace that supports staff and stakeholders who experience violence
  • the integration of gender equality into core business

Small acts of disrespect and inequality can lead to more serious acts of gendered violence. Workplace conversations, actions and policies can reinforce or challenge the existing culture.

As the employer or person who manages or controls a workplace, your OHS responsibilities require you to set standards that provide a safe workplace for all employees. Workplace standards should include clear expectations about behaviours, attitudes and language that disrespect or exclude people based on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or assumptions about dominant gender stereotypes and socially prescribed gender roles. They need to specify examples of types of behaviours that are and are not allowed.

Standards should be set out in policies and procedures, included in induction and workplace training, and modelled by managers and supervisors. This way everyone in the workplace clearly understands what is acceptable and can be proactive in avoiding, and even challenging, unacceptable behaviours.

Visit the Our Watch website for standards, strategies and tools to help develop a culture of workplace equality and respect.

Workplace behaviour policies and procedures

A workplace behaviour policy and procedure helps to set expectations about behaviours associated with gendered violence. You may have separate policies about gendered violence, workplace bullying, sexual harassment and occupational violence, or you may decide to cover several issues in the one policy. If you include several issues in the one policy, you need to ensure that it adequately addresses the risks and behaviours that specifically relate to gendered violence.

The policy should:

  • describe discriminatory, aggressive or disrespectful behaviours that are unacceptable
  • state appropriate action that will be taken to protect employees
  • include support and referral information for those who have experienced work-related gendered violence and may want additional support

It may also outline things like appropriate language to use and appropriate material to bring into the work environment (for example, that sexist or homophobic language or pornographic material is banned.)

Managers and supervisors should be trained in upholding and applying the policy and related procedures, and understand the importance of modelling appropriate behaviours in line with the policy.

Addressing unwanted or offensive behaviour early

Early intervention and reporting of unwanted or offensive behaviour is often an effective way to make sexual harassment and other forms of gendered violence stop. It is important to have clear and confidential mechanisms for reporting inappropriate behaviour that are widely communicated. During induction and throughout their employment, employees should be encouraged to report behaviour that offends them or causes concern.

There should be a clear response to reports of such behaviour, which does not disadvantage, further harm or place blame on the reporter. There should be an emphasis on changing the behaviour of the perpetrator.

Gendered violence is likely to be under-reported, particularly in occupations where incidents occur regularly. Employees may not report incidents because:

  • it's seen as just 'part of the job' or the work culture and nothing can be done about it
  • they think reports will be ignored or not handled respectfully and confidentially
  • they fear they will be blamed for the incident, or that reporting may expose them to additional harm, discrimination or disadvantage (such as losing their job or shifts)
  • a perpetrator may have organisational power over them (such as a boss or supervisor)

Reporting can be encouraged by:

  • acting on reports as soon as possible
  • consistent, effective and, where possible confidential, response to reports
  • line supervisors acting appropriately when a report is made to ensure the person making the report is not blamed or penalised for the incident, or subjected to further harm

Bystander intervention

Those who witness gendered violence are often the best placed to intervene when it occurs. Witnesses taking action is an effective strategy that provides the earliest possible intervention.

Encourage bystanders to intervene but only when they feel safe to do so. Employees should receive training in when and how to intervene, such as by verbally discouraging unwanted behaviours. Bystander training consists of building skills, including practising brief responses and anonymously reporting the behaviour to the employer if it does not cease. Employers should advise bystanders they will receive support.


To create an environment where people feel confident to report gendered violence, you should be able to demonstrate that such information will be private and confidential. Employees may choose to only disclose instances of gendered violence in confidence. In these circumstances, you should ensure that all information disclosed is confidential, unless there is a specific risk to the affected employee or other employees. Confidentiality should be used to protect victims, but not to hide or minimise problems.

Work environment and security

The physical environment can affect the likelihood of gendered violent incidents, and the ability to respond to those incidents. The following are examples of workplace features that can help prevent incidents:

  • Facilities and equipment give privacy and security for all staff – such as all-gender toilets with separate cubicles, or private change rooms or accommodation.
  • The building is secure, maintained, adequately lit and fit for purpose.
  • Where possible, employees are separated from the public.
  • Where possible, employees don't work alone.
  • There is no public access to the premises when people work alone or at night.
  • Employees can see who is coming into the premises and restrict access when necessary.
  • Staff car parks are adequately lit.
  • Communication and alarm systems are in place, regularly maintained and tested.

For more information about choosing physical environment controls to prevent violence (including gendered violence):

Safe work systems

Work systems and procedures are administrative controls and should be part of the overall gendered violence prevention strategy. Work systems and processes include:

  • systems for ensuring that HR policies and procedures are understood, and implemented consistently and fairly across all areas of the business
  • procedures for working safely (such as for opening the business, working in isolation, responsible service of alcohol policy and practices at licensed hospitality venues and workplace functions)
  • systems for monitoring and ensuring staff are safe during their shift
  • processes for identifying triggers that may escalate gendered violence, and for sharing and recording that information (such as handover processes)
  • systems for managing, reporting and investigating incidents of gendered violence
  • providing information, instruction and training

Find more information on safe work systems for controlling violence including gendered violence:

Information, instruction, training and supervision

Use training to support your overall strategy for preventing work-related gendered violence. Training on gendered violence can be included as part of wider training about workplace behaviours, codes of conduct and violence prevention. Appropriately targeted training should be delivered to employees at all levels of an organisation.

Induction and training for employees can be provided in the following areas:

  • gendered violence prevention measures
  • workplace policy and procedures, including acceptable standards of behaviour, how to respond to and report gendered violence, and encouragement of reporting all incidents
  • bystander intervention – what employees should do if they witness gendered violence
  • what to do if someone discloses an instance of gendered violence
  • situational risk assessment – for example when visiting homes or working off site
  • strategies for modelling and encouraging positive behaviours and for managing behaviours of concern
  • dealing with challenging customers or clients
  • communication skills
  • understanding gender, sexuality, gender-identity, disability or minority-based vulnerability

Reviewing risk control measures

Reviews help employers to check whether risk control measures are working. They may also identify possible improvements to their effectiveness through changes to the physical environment, new work procedures, and/or additional training.

A review of risk control measures can include an examination of the physical environment, work functions and tasks.

A review of risk control measures should occur:

  • at a regular time – for example annually
  • when employee or HSR feedback indicates risk control measures are ineffective or not as effective as they should be
  • when an HSR or health and safety committee request a review
  • when there have been significant changes in the work environment or work tasks
  • after an incident or near miss
  • when state of knowledge changes