Steps for workers to address sexual harassment

Guidance for workers who think they have been sexually harassed.

Before taking action about sexual harassment, you should clarify whether the behaviour meets the criteria in the law as to what is considered ‘sexual harassment’.

What is sexual harassment

Addressing the harassment at the workplace level

The first step may be to take steps to address it yourself at a low level in the workplace.  You should check if there are any existing policies and guidance in your workplace for addressing sexual harassment and follow these.

Addressing the harassment yourself

You may feel intimidated or become concerned that your job will be in jeopardy if you say something to a person who is senior to you. So you should only take steps to address the sexual harassment yourself if you feel safe and comfortable doing so.

You may want to let the person you think is sexually harassing you know how their behaviour makes you feel or may be making others feel. You can directly ask them to stop their behaviour, either face to face or in writing. 

If you take steps to address the harassment yourself, it should still be reported, for example, to your manager, so they can support you and ensure the workplace culture doesn’t accept this behaviour. It is important they know it has happened even if it can be resolved between the individuals involved. 

If you feel safe to address the issue in person, you could bring a support person with you, like a trusted friend or colleague. This action should leave the individual with no doubt that their actions or comments are offensive to you or others and are unwelcome.

The outcome could be that after some discussion, the person whose behaviour you think was offensive or unwelcome apologises and agrees not to behave that way again. You should confirm the agreed outcomes in writing, and let your manager know.

If you don’t feel safe and comfortable to address the sexual harassment yourself, you can also choose to report it to your manager or seek external advice.

Reporting sexual harassment

You can report sexual harassment to your manager. If your manager is the harasser, you should report to Human Resources or another manager. They may also give the name of another person to contact, especially in employers that don’t have established Human Resources departments. 

If you are unable to report the harassment because there isn’t a Human Resources department or your manager is involved, you can contact MBIE and we can provide impartial, free and confidential mediation services. 

You can also access external advice from other groups. 

It’s okay to report sexual harassment in person, but you should follow up with a formal email or letter containing the following information.

Formal email or letter

  • The subject line – "Formal complaint of alleged sexual harassment." This puts the company on notice that you are making a serious complaint that requires action.
  • A timeline, with as many names, dates, and actions documented as possible. Any witnesses you can list are helpful.
  • Details of what happened, who said what, when, and how you felt and what the consequences were.
  • Whether the behaviour is ongoing or you have concern it might be repeated.
  • Add any concerns that you have about your situation. Are you concerned that because you turned down a date request, your manager will overlook you for a pay raise or the best project? Include that information. 

You can also use this template from WorkSafe to report sexual harassment.

Reporting form: Sexual harassment – WorkSafe (external link)

What to expect from your employer when you make a complaint

Sexual harassment complaints can be addressed within an organisation through managers or Human Resources, or Health and Safety representatives.

In this situation, the person who investigates your complaint will try to resolve it internally. To do this, they should get the details of what happened from you and the person you have complained about.

In some cases, they may be able to resolve the problem by telling that person that their behaviour was inappropriate, asking them not to do it again, and making sure the behaviour has stopped.

The person who investigates must be clear on what actually had happened. Otherwise, a full investigation would need to be carried out to be fair to the person accused of sexual harassment.

You should consider asking the person investigating the complaint:

  • what will be the process for dealing with the complaint
  • for the complaint to be handled confidentially
  • for any written copy of the complainant response and any other documents related to it to be given to you
  • for any documents related to any investigation
  • for an independent investigator
  • for the expected timeframe for resolving issues
  • that a support person be present for any interview. 

After the investigation, the investigator should tell you:

  • whether the behaviour you reported was considered sexual harassment
  • what action will be taken to address it, and
  • when action has been taken, so that you know that the matter is being, or has been, addressed. 

Seeking external advice

If you are worried about the way your employer is handling your sexual harassment complaint or disagree with their findings or the conduct of the investigator, you may wish to contact someone outside your employer for external advice. 

For example, a lawyer, an employment advocate, a union representative, the Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) or the Community Law Centres (CLC) can help you make a formal complaint.

Employment Services

You can use our free phone-based Early Resolution Service to resolve a workplace issue early, quickly, and informally, before it becomes too serious or needs a more formal process.

Report an employment issue form (external link)

You can also ask for free, impartial and confidential support from MBIE’s Employment Mediation Services, to support you and the other party to resolve the issue.

You can request mediation via our free Mediation Service to help resolve the issues, including a personal grievance, between you and the other party. The mediation service provides a process that is private and confidential for everyone involved. You will be contacted by their teams to guide you through the process. This may include mediation sessions where, through the help of a mediator, those involved talk about the issues in an open and constructive way to reach a fair and mutually agreed resolution.

Mediation can be between the complainant and the person complained about (with their agreement) or with the employer in relation to the investigation and management of the complaint.

Resolution could include an apology, an agreement not to do the same thing in the future, agreed ground rules going forward, the provision of support, a training programme or compensation.


Making a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority or Human Rights Tribunal 

If these options don’t resolve the problem, there are two routes you can use to progress a sexual harassment complaint: the Employment Relations Authority or the Human Rights Tribunal. 

If you’re not sure which route to use, both services can give you more information. 

You can raise a personal grievance

Under the Employment Relations Act 2000, you can raise a personal grievance. A personal grievance is a type of complaint that an employee may bring against their employer. You must do this within 12 months since the sexual harassment occurred or came to your attention, whichever is the later.

Personal grievance process

You can complain directly to the Human Rights Commission 

Under the Human Rights Act 1993, you can raise a complaint. You have 12 months to do this from the incident of sexual harassment. 

Human Rights Commission (external link)

If you are a volunteer, an independent contractor, a customer or a supplier, you can only raise your complaint to the Human Rights Commission. 

Who is an employee

Please note that normally there’s no confidentiality once a decision of the Human Rights Review Tribunal or Employment Relations Authority is published. You can ask for it, but confidentiality may or may not be granted.

Guidance on sexual harassment and the complaint process – Human Rights Commission [PDF, 235KB] (external link)

Advice for workers in sexual harassment complaints – WorkSafe (external link)

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Page last revised: 13 June 2023

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