Sexual harassment in the medical profession: legal and ethical responsibilities

Ben Mathews and Marie M Bismark
Med J Aust 2015; 203 (4): 189-192. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.00336


  • Sexual harassment of women in medicine has become a subject of national debate after a senior female surgeon stated that if a woman complained of unwanted advances her career would be jeopardised, and subsequent reports suggest that sexual harassment is a serious problem in the medical profession.
  • Sexual harassment of women in the medical profession by their colleagues presents substantial legal, ethical and cultural questions for the profession.
  • Women have enforceable legal rights to gender equality and freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Both individual offenders and employers face significant legal consequences for sexual harassment in every Australian state and territory, and individual medical practitioners and employers need to understand their legal and ethical rights and responsibilities in this context.
  • An individual offender may be personally liable for criminal offences, and for breaching anti-discrimination legislation, duties owed in civil law, professional standards and codes of conduct.
  • An employer may be liable for breaching anti-discrimination legislation, workplace safety laws, duties owed in contract law, and a duty of care owed to the employee.
  • Employers, professional colleges and associations, and regulators should use this national debate as an opportunity to improve gender equality and professional culture in medicine; individuals and employers have clear legal and ethical obligations to minimise sexual harassment to the greatest extent possible.

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  • Ben Mathews1
  • Marie M Bismark2

  • 1 Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD
  • 2 University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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