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Self-Representation Toolkit: Making a Sexual Harassment Complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission

If you have been advised that you are eligible to make a sexual harassment complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), use this toolkit as a guide when filing your complaint.

REMINDER: You have 24 months from the date the sexual harassment conduct occurred to make your complaint.


  1. Make sure you are using the correct form

You can either complete the form online or print out a paper version to post or email to the AHRC.

There is no fee to make a complaint to the AHRC.


  1. Filling out the form

Part A – About you, the complainant

As you are the person making the complaint, you are the ‘Complainant.

Insert your details and contact information. You do not need to include your address if you are not comfortable doing so.


Part B – Who is the complaint about?

The organisation(s) and/or person(s) you are complaining about are called ‘Respondents’ as they will be responding to your complaint. This can be your employer (ie the company or business), individual manager(s) and/or the individual(s) who did the sexual harassment.

Insert the details of all the Respondents you want to include. For example, Respondent 1 – (Employer details), Respondent 2 – (individual’s details), etc.


Part C – What are you complaining about?

Select ‘I have been sexually harassed’. If you have experienced other discrimination, select other boxes that apply (eg if you were also discriminated against because of your race, disability, gender, etc.)

Victimisation is when a person has been treated unfairly because they made a complaint or tried to make a complaint. If this happened to you, select this box too.

Under ‘When did the alleged event(s) happen?’ insert the date or time period of when the sexual harassment occurred. In some cases, the AHRC may accept complaints for events that happened more than 24 months ago. If you are making a complaint more than 24 months later, you will need to explain why there was a delay in making the complaint. For example, if you were fearful of making a complaint, you were not aware of the time period or you were experiencing anxiety, trauma, etc. as a result of the sexual harassment.

Under ‘What happened?’ insert relevant details about what happened to you, including dates, names of individuals, locations, etc. Avoid long, complicated paragraphs. It is best to use headings, numbered paragraphs and dot points.

You can also create a separate document to answer this section and attach it to your complaint. If you do this, simply write, ‘Please see attached complaint summary’ under this section.

Include any documents that may support your complaint, including letters from you employer, text messages, screenshots and/or photos which evidence the sexual harassment.

Under ‘How do you think this complaint could be resolved?’ insert your preferred outcome(s). This can include: a letter of apology, compensation for financial losses you experienced because of the harassment (eg lost wages, medical expenses), compensation for stress, suffering or humiliation (non-economic loss), an agreement for the Respondent(s) to undergo relevant training or to change their policies and procedures.


Part D – Lodging the complaint

Once your complaint form is finalised and you have all your supporting documents together, you can submit the documents in one of the following ways (online or email is preferable):


  1. What happens once I submit the complaint?

A few days after submitting your complaint, you will receive an acknowledgement email from the AHRC.

There is currently a delay of at least 6 months for the AHRC to accept complaints. The time delay is usually listed in the acknowledgement email. There is no need to provide additional documents or submissions whilst your complaint is awaiting acceptance.

Once accepted, your complaint will then be allocated to a conciliator or investigator. They will contact you about resolving the complaint through a conciliation conference.


  1. Conciliation conference

A conciliation conference is a confidential meeting between the Complainant (you), the Respondent(s) and a Conciliator from the AHRC. Conciliators help parties communicate and guide discussion by raising questions and making suggestions to assist the parties in reaching a resolution. The Conciliator is impartial, does not take sides and cannot make any decisions.

Conciliations are conducted ‘without prejudice’, which means nothing that is said in the conciliation can be referred to in future proceedings if the matter does not resolve at conciliation.

Tip: Mark your calendar with the conciliation date

You will receive an email from the AHRC with details of the conciliation. This will include the date, time and location. Conciliations can be held online, in-person or over the phone. Typically, they occur via MS Teams.

It is important that you attend the conciliation as your complaint may be terminated if you fail to do so.


Preparing for conciliation

  • Review your own complaint and the Respondent’s response to your complaint. Be prepared to address or deal with any issues raised in the Respondent’s response.
  • Prepare a statement or notes for you to read from during your conciliation.
  • Have a proposal ready for how you would like to resolve the matter. Think about what you might be willing to negotiate on.
  • If your conciliation is held online or over the phone, make sure you are in a location with stable internet connection and your laptop or phone is fully charged.


During the conciliation conference

Private session

Before a conciliation begins, you will usually have a private session with the Conciliator so they can check in with you and explain the conciliation process. The Conciliator will then have a private session with the Respondent to do the same with them.

Joint session

Then, there will be a joint session with you, the Respondent and the Conciliator. The Conciliator will ask the Complainant (you) to say a statement explaining your case. Here, you can tell your story and have an opportunity to be heard. You can talk about the effect the sexual harassment had on you. Remember to concentrate on key points and provide relevant information that will support your complaint. Avoid long tangents and unnecessary information.

The Conciliator will then give the Respondent an opportunity to respond. Be respectful and do not interrupt others. If the Respondent says something you disagree with, do not assume the Conciliator agrees with them.

You can ask for a break at any time during this process.

Once the joint session is finished, the conciliation will break into private sessions again.

Private sessions

Then, the Conciliator will have a private session with you. The Conciliator may comment on the strength and weaknesses of your respective cases. Here, you should put forward your proposal for resolving the complaint.

The Conciliator will then have a private session with the Respondent and hear their response or counteroffer to your proposal to resolve the complaint.

The Conciliator will continue to go between the parties with the aim to reach an agreement and pass messages between the parties.

If you and the Respondent reach an agreement, the Conciliator can assist the parties to draw up a conciliation agreement. This is a legally binding and enforceable contract, so carefully review the terms before signing.


  1. What happens if the complaint is not resolved by conciliation?

If the complaint cannot be resolved by conciliation and the President of the AHRC is satisfied the complaint cannot be resolved, the complaint will be terminated.

Once terminated, you can take the matter to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia or the Federal Court of Australia. You must make an application to either Court within 60 days of the date your complaint was terminated.

You should seek further legal advice before starting a case in these Courts as the process can be lengthy and costly.


Contact the Working Women’s Centre on 08 8410 6499 to organise a legal advice appointment with one of our lawyers.

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