Risks and effects of work-related gendered violence

This guidance may help employers understand risks and effects of work-related gendered violence.


What might gendered violence look like

People can be exposed to work-related gendered violence from managers, coworkers, contractors, site visitors, clients, customers or members of the public. Gendered violence can be perpetrated by anyone regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. The evidence shows that men are more likely to commit gendered violence.

Work-related gendered violence may be aimed directly at an individual or a group. It could also be behaviour that while not directed at anyone, affects someone who is exposed to it, or witnesses it.

Examples of work-related gendered violence could include

  • A caller uses offensive sexual language with a female call centre operator.
  • An employer questions or makes negative comments about an employee's sexual orientation or the way they look.
  • Pornographic posters on the wall in a warehouse make the female driver feel uncomfortable whenever she has to pick up a delivery.
  • People make disparaging jokes about gay relationships in the staffroom, making a gay colleague at a neighbouring table feel threatened and excluded.
  • A pub owner tells the female employees they have to wear short skirts to look sexy for the patrons.
  • An employee receives unwanted sexually explicit texts from another employee after hours.
  • A transgender woman overhears coworkers complaining about her using the women's toilets.
  • A person is sexually assaulted by a client in a health care facility.

In some situations, work-related gendered violence and sexual harassment may overlap with work-related violence or work-related bullying. Complex workplace situations may include behaviours that are difficult to distinguish. The employer should consistently address work related factors to help prevent and address these behaviours.

How it affects people

Work-related gendered violence varies in severity and its effect. It can contribute to physical injury and illness, as well as mental injury. It can lead to:

  • feelings of isolation
  • loss of confidence and withdrawal
  • physical injuries as a result of assault
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • suicide
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • social isolation, family dislocation
  • stress
  • financial loss or economic disadvantage
  • cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, immune deficiency and gastrointestinal disorders (for example, as a result of stress)

Who is most at risk

While anyone can experience work-related gendered violence, certain conditions make some groups of people more likely to experience it.

In a Victorian survey, over 60% of women reported that they had experienced some form of gendered violence at work and have felt at risk in their workplaces (VTHC).

An Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) survey on sexual harassment found that:

  • Women are more likely than men to experience sexual harassment in the workplace, and more likely to experience sexual harassment that causes 'extreme offence' or 'extreme intimidation'.

It also found that in the five years before 2018:

  • People who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or with another sexual orientation (including pansexual, queer, asexual, aromantic, undecided, not sure, questioning) were significantly more likely than those who identify as straight or heterosexual to be sexually harassed in the workplace.
  • Almost two-thirds of victims of sexual harassment were under 40 years of age.
  • work-related sexual harassment was experienced at substantially higher rates among people who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (53%) compared with those who did not (32%).
  • People with disability were more likely than those without disability to have been sexually harassed in their workplace (44% and 32% respectively).

The risk of experiencing harm from gendered violence rises when a person faces multiple forms of discrimination. Attributes such as gender, sexuality, migration status, disability and literacy can combine (intersect) and increase a person’s vulnerability. In addition, employees in insecure work (for example casual, labour hire or part-time work) tend to be exposed more to violence and sexual harassment, especially when combined with the above attributes that can often be discriminated against. All of these can also make employees less likely to report. The AHRC survey found sexual harassment to be more prevalent in industries including information, media and telecommunications; arts and recreation services; electricity, gas, water and waste services; and retail trade. However, violence can occur in any industry or occupation, and it may be less likely to be reported in some industries where it is seen as a normal part of the job.

Work-related factors that can contribute to the risk of work-related gendered violence

Factors that can contribute to work-related gendered violence include workplaces where:

  • power is distributed unequally along gendered lines (for example, workplaces where men control positions of power, and/or women are in vulnerable positions in the labour market)
  • there is a culture of sexism, homophobia and norms that support gendered violence
  • violent and aggressive behaviour is supported, accepted and rewarded

The risk of gendered violence can also be affected by the type of work being done, work systems, and the physical environment of the workplace.

Work-related Gendered Violence campaign

Gendered violence is an OHS issue. It is unacceptable in any form.

More information and resources