Harassment can be against the law when a person is treated less favourably on the basis of certain personal characteristics, such as race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, breastfeeding, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. Some limited exemptions and exceptions apply.

Harassment can include behaviour such as:

  • telling insulting jokes about particular racial groups
  • sending explicit or sexually suggestive emails or text messages
  • displaying racially offensive or pornographic posters or screen savers
  • making derogatory comments or taunts about someone’s race
  • asking intrusive questions about someone’s personal life, including his or her sex life.

The law also has specific provisions relating to certain types of harassment.

  • Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour where a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It has nothing to do with mutual attraction or consensual behaviour.
  • Harassment linked to the disability of a person or their associate is against the law.
  • Offensive behaviour based on racial hatred is against the law. Racial hatred is defined as something done in public that offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates a person or group of people because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

A one-off incident can constitute harassment. All incidents of harassment require employers or managers to respond quickly and appropriately.

Employers can also be held liable for harassment by their employees. This is called ‘vicarious liability’.