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2. Promote diversity and wellbeing

7. Practice ethically

This page focuses on the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable consensual romantic relationships and sexual harassment, in a supervision setting.


Charter elements featured

2. Promote diversity and wellbeing

#5   show concern for others

#6   respect age, gender, values, culture & beliefs

#8   support others if you witness disrespectful behaviour

7. Practice ethically

#26 communicate transparently, acknowledge, and apologise for, mistakes

#27 maintain privacy and confidentiality, appropriately

Romantic relationships between adult co-workers occur in many workplaces however it essential that we understand and manage the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

Broadly speaking we can classify these into three behaviour groups:

1. Non-consensual sexual advances – sexual harassment

2. Inappropriate consensual relationships due to power-based conflict of interest

3. Consensual relationships


1.Non-consensual sexual advances – sexual harassment

The following hypothetical scenario depicts a senior doctor approach a junior doctor in an unwitnessed setting.

Scene 1a video (with permission SCSSC)

The events in this scene are consistent with sexual harassment, according to the following definition provided by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

'Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. If a reasonable person would anticipate this behaviour might make you feel offended, humiliated or intimidated, it may be sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)'.


The #Metoo campaign has, amongst other things,  brought into the spotlight the issue of boundaries between welcome and unwelcome sexual behaviour. The AHRC's "Know where the line is" project helps to clarify this ambiguity. Examples of inappropriate behaviours (ie unlikely to be welcome) include: 

'inappropriate sexual jokes, comments or questions about someone’s sex life, their sexuality or what they look like. Like inappropriate leering, touching, hugging, cornering or kissing'.

See the section at the end of this page for advice on how to respond if you feel sexually harassed or witness this at work

2. Inappropriate consensual romantic relationships where conflict of interest exists 

Supervisors exercise power. This is particularly so when they have formal supervision roles as their professional judgment can influence the career progression of the doctors and students they supervise. These judgments can be biased toward or against the interests of the student or JMO. Even if objectivity is maintained, observers may assume favouritism. Supervision also entails trust. As in the patient doctor relationship, this places medical supervisors in a position to groom JMOs into dependent relationships.

Consequently, it is inappropriate for supervisors to have consensual relationships with JMOs or students if they are in a position to exercise power over them.

In this instance, the relationship should be disclosed and the professional supervision role reviewed.

3. Consensual relationships

Most workplaces permit staff to engage in personal relationships however on the assumption that these do not impede work performance or the effective functioning of the workplace. It can be challenging to ensure this. Personal issues may be difficult to separate from professional responsibilities, particularly if the relationship ends, and perceptions of favouritism may develop among teammates. Some practical advice on dating in the workplace is available here.

How to respond if you feel sexually harassed at work?

According to the AHRC, telling the other person that the behaviour is unacceptable will frequently stop the behaviour. The other person is responsible for his or her behaviour, but in some instances, may be unaware that the behaviour is unwelcome.  Communicating directly and transparently to the other person that the behaviour is welcome is a useful first step. In response, the other person should accept and act upon your directive the first time and apologise for the mistake.  


Charter elements 

#26 communicate transparently, acknowledge, and apologise for, mistakes

#27 maintain privacy and confidentiality, appropriately

Here are some steps you can take (extracted from the AHRC)

• Raise the issue directly with the harasser and tell them that their behaviour is unwelcome

• Talk to a colleague for support

• Talk to a union delegate or contact a union office for advice

• Contact a community legal centre or working women’s centre for legal advice

• Contact 1800 RESPECT for telephone and online counselling, information and referral

• Make a complaint to your manager/employer

• Contact the Australian Human Rights Commission or state and federal anti-discrimination agencies for information or to make a complaint.

Within NSW Health employees can contact Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Assist Line for support as shown in this video.

Scene 1b video (with permission SCSSC)

How to respond if you witness sexual harassment at work?

Charter element

#8   support others if you witness disrespectful behaviour


Bystanders play an important role in stopping inappropriate behaviour and supporting the victim because it can be difficult to speak up when you feel sexually harassed (as is the case of the JMO in the video).

The AHRC's See Talk Support campaign has been designed to equip bystanders step up and support victims.


SEE. Know where the line is. If you see something or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t ignore it.
TALK. It takes courage to speak up. Talk with your boss, your colleagues or with the person who is crossing the line. 
SUPPORT. Don’t underestimate the power of support. It can help a colleague stand up and take action.

Here is a demonstration of how this can be done.


Scene 1c video (with permission SCSSC)

This extract from the AHRC website provides more specific advice to bystanders


1. Talk to the person experiencing harassment:

  • Listen to them

  • Ask them what support they would like

  • Assist them in finding information or on how to make a complaint.

There are also other things you can do:

  • Talk to your manager or supervisor about displaying the workplace sexual harassment policy prominently in your workplace

  • Organise sexual harassment training for your workplace

  • Talk to Human Resources about implementing any sexual harassment policies

  • Talk to a union delegate or union about raising awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace

  • If you have the person experiencing the harassment’s permission you can also report it to your employer.

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